Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Thatcher Doffs Gloves on Europe One Year after Her Own Ouster, Former Prime Minister Slams Successor's European Strategy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Thatcher Doffs Gloves on Europe One Year after Her Own Ouster, Former Prime Minister Slams Successor's European Strategy

Article excerpt

MARGARET THATCHER, the former prime minister, is leading an open rebellion against the European policies of her successor, John Major, claiming most British voters back her views.

Exactly a year after the ruling Conservative Party dropped her as their leader, the Iron Lady of British politics told the House of Commons last week that a public referendum should be held to decide whether Britain should join in a closer political and economic union with its European Community partners.

When Mr. Major replied that he was opposed to a referendum, and wanted the issue to be decided by Parliament, Mrs. Thatcher accused him in a television interview of arrogance.

She insisted that Major should "listen to the people," and that at next month's EC summit at Maastricht, Netherlands, he should reject a single European currency and resist Britain's inclusion in a federal Europe.

Prominent supporters of Major said they were appalled by Thatcher's open defiance of government policies. Sir Norman Fowler, a former government minister who advises Major on electoral strategy and is chairman of the Conservative European affairs committee in Parliament, said: "Her call for a referendum will be seen as an attack on the prime minister. If she goes on like this, she is going to lose us the election."

The dispute between Major and Thatcher has exposed profound divisions within the British electorate on attitudes toward closer involvement in Europe. It also ends a 12-month period during which the former prime minister made most of her speeches overseas.

Now, having prepared the ground for a Thatcher Foundation to promote her views abroad, she is apparently ready to intervene in British politics.

The former premier's brush with Major occurred during a two-day House of Commons debate which the prime minister had hoped would close up splits in the Conservative Party on policy toward the EC in the run-up to Maastricht.

Instead Major found himself heading a party in considerable disarray as Thatcher and her supporters continued to claim that voters were against closer ties with Europe and wanted a referendum.

An opinion poll in yesterday's London Sunday Times appeared to back the claim. A Mori organization survey showed that 56 percent of the electorate wanted a referendum and that 32 percent opposed the idea. It also indicated that 54 percent would vote against adopting a single European currency, with 33 percent in favor.

Thatcher's speech in the Commons debate was delivered from the back benches. Minutes earlier Major had attempted to argue that at Maastricht he could be relied on to resist pressures from Britain's partners for a federal Europe with a single currency.

Thatcher's was an electrifying performance that outshone Major's and hijacked the debate, according to commentators and other Parliament members. …

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