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Tuesday, October 5, 1999 Published at 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK

UK Politics

Tories vow to rewrite EU membership terms

John Maples delighted Eurosceptics with his speech

The Tory Party has committed itself to rewriting the terms of the UK's membership of the European Union.

Shadow foreign secretary John Maples gave the pledge to the Conservative conference in Blackpool, in a move certain to further inflame party divisions over Europe.

In his keynote speech, Mr Maples said one of the next Tory government's first acts would be to negotiate an amendment to the Treaty of Rome.

The aim was to "allow each country the freedom to decide for itself whether or not to apply new European legislation outside that core".

He declared: "This will stop the slide to a superstate. No longer will Britain be bound by every anti-business, nanny state, interfering regulation dreamt up by the [European] Commission."

The move will delight Eurosceptics in the party while infuriating pro-European Conservatives.

Slap in the face for pro-Europeans

[ image: The pledge came despite a warning from Michael Heseltine against Eurosceptic
The pledge came despite a warning from Michael Heseltine against Eurosceptic "folly"
It will also be seen as a slap in the face for Tory former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, who just the previous evening warned against the "incalculable folly" of being pushed towards withdrawal from Europe by the party's Eurosceptic wing.

Shortly before Mr Maples' speech, Tory ex-chancellor Kenneth Clarke also came out fighting against the Eurosceptics, accusing senior party figures of breaking with official policy and seeking to rule out joining the euro forever.

He warned that the Tories' new policy of renegotiating European treaties where the UK opposed European Union legislation was for some a "cloak" for their real aim of withdrawal from the EU.

Mr Maples denied Tories were anti-European, insisting: "We are the ones with a positive vision for Europe."

With a stony-faced Sir Edward Heath - the pro-European former prime minister - sittting on the conference platform during the speech, Mr Maples declared: "We will oppose further erosion of Britain's veto. We will oppose new burdens on business.

[ image: A stony-faced Sir Edward Heath watched the speech from the platform]
A stony-faced Sir Edward Heath watched the speech from the platform
"We will work for global free trade. We will seek to reduce the powers of the [European] Court. We will keep the pound."

'Prince Tony of Tuscany'

The EU had to be more flexible "or the compulsion to integrate will lead to protectionism", he warned.

"Only decisions necessary to the core function of free markets and free trade should have to be made in Europe."

Mr Maples said the party had a duty to pass on to future generations the "free and independent Britain" inherited by today's nation.

"If the EU develops into a federal superstate, then Britain will simply be a province of that superstate.

"The single currency could well lead to a single tax policy. The social chapter will lead to a single social policy. The common foreign and security policy will lead to a European Army."

Claiming this was the way that Mr Blair was leading the country, he added: "It is our duty and I believe our destiny to stop that ever happening."

Mr Maples mocked the prime minister over his Tuscan summer holiday, comparing him to a "Medici prince with delusions of grandeur - Prince Tony of Tuscany perhaps".

The EU, he said, was still pursuing an old agenda. "It is our job to make our partners address the real issues facing Europe - of new post cold war reality, of global business and new trading patterns."

Earlier Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned that any attempt to renegotiate the Treaty of Rome would provoke a "crisis in relations between Britain and the rest of Europe", put millions of UK jobs at risk and eventually lead to the country's exit from the EU.

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