01/06/2004

Beware 'extremists', Tories urge ahead of Euro poll

Tory leader Michael Howard has appealed to UK voters to reject "extremist" alternatives – such as the UK Independence Party – for June's European elections.

Mr Howard is keen not to leak Eurosceptic votes to the UKIP and appealed for Conservatives to rally behind his party's vision of Europe - which he declared "puts Britain first".

In an election campaign speech in Southampton last night, Mr Howard said that "extremist" candidates from the UK Independence Party wanted to "pull out of the European Union altogether".

At the other extreme are Labour and the Liberal Democrats, he said, who want to transfer even more from Britain to Brussels, setting Europe on the path to a single European State.

"Instead, the Conservatives were more prepared to stand up for Britain's interests in Europe. We put Britain first. And we reject moves towards a single European state. We want now, what we have always wanted - a Europe that creates jobs, not regulations, a Europe that is prosperous, not declining; a Europe that is fit for the global challenges of the twenty-first century; a modern Europe that echoes the aspirations of its peoples," he said.

Mr Howard said the Conservatives vision was for a flexible Europe, leaving individual countries free to integrate more closely if they want to, without forcing others to follow.

"We should look at taking back powers from Europe that would be better exercised at a national level here in Britain - and in other countries too," he added.

However, the Labour Party has hit back with its report, 'The UKIP Connection', which claims to reveal "the network of organisations and people that link the leadership of the Conservative Party with the extreme anti-Europeans of the United Kingdom Independence Party".

Labour’s Gary Titley MEP, Leader of the Labour MEPs, said the Tories were running scared of the UKIP which was "monster" of their making.

He added: “Now the Tories are in a panic and are desperately trying to distance themselves from UKIP, but the reality is plain: the Tories and UKIP share the same politics, they campaign together, they meet together: their only difference is a question of tactics, not principle.

“And at least UKIP are honest about their desire to take us out of the EU, the Tories hide their politics under weasel words like renegotiation and even the clichéd ‘live and let live’.”

Labour’s Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, maintained the pressure on Michael Howard, and stole Tory clothes by claiming the Conservatives had a record of "failing business" – while 50 new businesses are started up every day under the present government.

Ms Hewitt said: “The Tories failed British businesses and they have pledged to make devastating cuts to all our measures of business support. The Tories are a recession waiting to happen. Their record speaks for itself, between 1992 and 1996, on average 1,000 businesses a week went bust under the Tories.

“The Tories are committed to massive cuts to our investment in science, education, skills and enterprise. Tory cuts would mean the closure of the highly successful Manufacturing Advisory Service, an end to Regional Selective Assistance and cutting all funding for enforcement of the National Minimum Wage.”

Lib Dems leader, Charles Kennedy, has warned that if Britain becomes a bit-player in Europe it could have huge consequences for British jobs and businesses.

He said: "For over 50 years, Britain’s membership of the European Union has been of benefit to the British people. Peace, stability, greater trading opportunities, and common action to tackle issues such as pollution, cross-border crime, terrorism and consumer protection has made a real difference to every man, woman and child in Britain.

"Those who undermine Britain’s role in Europe also undermine Britain’s influence around the world."

(gmcg)


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