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The BBC's Justin Webb reports
"The Prime Minister is frustrated by the background anti Europe propaganda"
 real 28k

UK PM Tony Blair
"Britain's prosperity depends on Europe"
 real 28k

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo MP
There is an alternative to the euro without leaving the EU
 real 28k

The BBC's Emma Udwin reports
"Mr Blair will make a heart felt defence of his own pro European strategy"
 real 28k

Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 09:35 GMT
UK destiny in Europe - Blair





Prime Minister Tony Blair has told an international audience that Britain should play a full part in the European Union because that is what is best for the country.

Delivering a strongly pro-European message during a speech in the Belgian city of Ghent, Mr Blair said the UK's reluctance to play a key role in Europe was one of its greatest miscalculations since World War II.

"Of course Britain could survive outside the European Union but it would be a poorer and a weaker Britain and that's why I am determined that we should play our full part in Europe," Mr Blair said.

He pointed out that nearly 60% of British trade is with Europe and that three million jobs depended on the UK's membership of the European Union.

Speaking during a visit to the European Commission in Brussels, he told an audience of European business leaders that Britain's relations with the rest of Europe had too often been "ambivalent" or "indifferent".

The speech was intended as a counter to former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher's 1988 Bruges speech.

In that 1988 speech, Baroness Thatcher as the then prime minister spoke of the spectre of a "European super-state" which would come to dominate the continent unless Brussels was stopped.

'Greatest misjudgement'

Mr Blair said his disagreement with Mrs Thatcher's speech, which has informed Euro-sceptic debate for more than a decade, was not that its criticisms were all unjustified.

"My disagreement is that the response to those criticisms was for Britain to withdraw into its shell, to opt out," he said.

Baroness Thatcher warned of an EU super-state
"We should be leading the way in Europe, shaping the direction of Europe, participating in debates and working in partnership with the others for a more prosperous economy for our people," he said.

'Halt the drift'

He supported his argument for closer engagement with the EU by saying that where that has happened so far under his leadership, the UK has seen results.

The speech is part of a week where the government is determined to put out positive messages on Europe.

It has included the launch of a campaign by pressure group Britain in Europe to bolster support for stronger links with the EU.

Tory shadow chancellor Michael Portillo told the BBC that Mr Blair's warnings that the Conservatives would lead Britain out of Europe were evidence that, "the prime minister is giving up on trying to convince people that the best thing for Britain is to give up its own currency."

He said the euro was an "unprecedented experiment and we have no reason to believe it will be successful".

He also criticised Mr Blair for "spending a lot of taxpayers money on scrapping the pound".

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See also:
23 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Blair takes a leaf from Thatcher's book
23 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Thatcher's Bruges speech
21 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
3m jobs 'dependent on EU'
22 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Hague: Blair would rig euro poll
22 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Europe minister's offer to Hague

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