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Sunday, 3 September, 2000, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Tories defend focus on Europe
Key members of the Tory shadow cabinet
Tories do not want Britain to be sucked into European superstate
The Tory party has defended the fact that its forthcoming manifesto will largely focus on Europe saying it is a critical issue.

Its pre-election manifesto, Believing in Britain, is due to be released this week.

In it, William Hague will promise that an elected Tory government would legislate to ensure certain powers such as tax, defence and welfare should not be handed over to European institutions or surrendered by treaty.

The Liberal Democrats are also set to launch their own document promising a cut in income tax for the poorest in Britain, as parties gear towards the next general election.

Tory chairman Michael Ancram
Michael Ancram: Europe is a critical issue
Tory chairman Michael Ancram defended the decision to concentrate on Europe.

He said the Tories wanted to draw a line in the sand to stop Britain sliding further into a European superstate - which, he claims, the current government is allowing to happen.

Erosion of power

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend, he said: "We are in Europe, we want to remain in Europe, but we don't want to be run by Europe and we certainly don't want to see our powers being eroded to Europe in the way that they are under this government."

He added: "We are about to see an enormous negotiation take place at Nice (France) and we are fearful that this government is once again going to allow powers which should remain in this country to be further eroded towards a European superstate."

Foreign secretary Robin Cook, who has just returned from a meeting with his European counterparts in Switzerland, hit back at the allegations.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
Robin Cook: Each member state will retain its autonomy
He said the present government would not allow Britain to be sucked into a European superstate and each member state would retain its autonomy.

"It is perfectly clear that Mr Hague's strategy for government, if he were ever to get there, is to pick a fight with the European Union and he's only doing that to please the prejudices of his own party," he told the BBC.

"He is not doing it for the sake of Britain and it would be very damaging for Britain.

"It would mean that we would no longer have the leading role that we at present do in Europe.

"This weekend I have been able to build a consensus around the fact that the future of Europe should respect the strength of member states."

Warning against extremism

He said the European Union should tackle issues which could not be tackled by member states alone, such as trade and cross border crime, but said a Britain which put itself on the margins of Europe, as the Tories were proposing, could not possibly do that.

If we expect other people to have us in Europe but avoid everything we do not like who is going to put up with that?

Sir Edward Heath
Earlier, former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath also issued a warning to Mr Hague about extremism on European issues, saying a hard line could work against the party.

Sir Edward said: "When Mr Hague has his refrain about 'We want to be in Europe but not run by Europe' does that mean we take no part in running Europe?

"If we do not, how can we be in Europe? If we expect other people to have us in Europe, but avoid everything we do not like, who is going to put up with that? Nobody."

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See also:

27 Jun 00 | Europe
Chirac pushes two-speed Europe
26 Jun 00 | Europe
Chirac praises Franco-German role
21 Jun 00 | Europe
At a glance: Summit decisions
09 Jun 00 | Europe
Franco-German boost for EU reform
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