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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on Maastricht

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on Maastricht, made on Wednesday 17th January 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked to reflect on his thoughts when he went to negotiate at Maastricht in December 1991].

PRIME MINISTER:

We knew they were going to be very tough negotiations. At the back of our mind were several things. Firstly, we needed to deal with the fall-out from the Single European Act - that we were right to sign that in the 1980s - but some of the fall-out had been very difficult, the huge growth for example in Community Directives, and we needed to cut that back; that was the birth of subsidiarity, the idea of giving power back to the individual countries.

Beyond that, there were several over-riding themes in our mind. Firstly, we wanted to change the system whereby every development in the European Community added to centralisation, so we wanted to establish a system where some matters could be dealt with solely by agreement between the governments on a quite separate basis and that is eventually what we agreed on security, defence, foreign affairs and home and justice affairs, a wholly new way for the European Union to develop that no-one had conceived of before - that was important to us.

Beyond that, of course, there were some things we were not prepared to accept. We were not prepared to accept the Social Chapter because we believed it would destroy jobs and I still do, and I think the evidence shows that it does, and secondly, we were not prepared to accept a commitment to a single currency.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he was on the defensive at Maastricht].

PRIME MINISTER:

In some cases certainly defensive but we had taken every detail of our negotiating position to the House of Commons and received the endorsement of the House of Commons so I had no doubt in my mind about the position that I was going to adopt and no doubt in my mind that if I was not able to achieve what I wanted, that I would not agree to the Treaty so to that extent I was certainly at ease in my negotiating position but there were a number of things that we wanted, those I set out a moment or so ago and a number of minor commitments as well all of which, in the event, we obtained.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he knew at that stage whether he would be able to get an assurance on a British opt-out from the single currency].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we didn’t have an assurance. I had had meetings with Delors, Lubbers, Kohl and others at the Luxembourg summit six weeks earlier and we had agreed a general principle of “no lock-out, no vetoes” so there was an implication that if we stood firm they would agree that there would be some form of opt-out but it emphatically wasn’t agreed and frankly, it wasn’t in my interest to have agreed it earlier because I wished to get the positive things we needed in the Treaty and also “out” the things we disliked before I came to the main issue of EMU. I didn’t want concessions made to me upon that issue that would have made the rest of my negotiations more difficult, I wanted that left till last.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked how the opt-out was achieved].

PRIME MINISTER:

It was perfectly clear that I wasn’t going to accept the proposals that our partners had put to us. I thought then - and believe still - that it was folly for them to proceed as they did with a stated timetable and a commitment to go into a single currency, absolute folly. I wasn’t prepared to agree to that. Nobody would know years in advance that the economic circumstances were or the political circumstances and I just made it perfectly clear to them that if they wished to proceed on that basis, they could not expect Britain to do so and we would not and if they were not prepared to accept that, then there would be no treaty.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if this had been said at the formal conference part of the proceedings].

PRIME MINISTER:

I had made that clear at the conference session but there were a series of private meetings outside it. The conference session went on a very long time, it was much the longest European Council meeting that I can recall and from time to time everyone got rather tired. There were a lot of detailed matters to be discussed and I had some private meetings outside the conference hall with Ruud Lubbers, who was chairing it, occasionally with Delors who was Commission President, also with Helmut Kohl and others and some of those discussions took place in that form.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he had tried to get every country an opt-out on EMU].

PRIME MINISTER:

It is difficult to persuade other people to accept something in their interests if they don’t wish to, but we would have preferred that, yes.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if could have vetoed the entire agreement].

PRIME MINISTER:

That is more theoretical than real, frankly. If we had vetoed the whole concept, they would have precisely what in the event they had to do with the Social Chapter and form a separate agreement outside the Treaty of eleven and that would have had the same practical effect with one difference - it would not have given Britain any influence about the economic conditions and other circumstances in which people might go ahead to a single currency and if they do go ahead at a future stage, whether or not Britain is part of that, it is going to have an economic impact upon this country, so I very much wanted us to be part of the negotiations and to determine the way in which this matter was structured in the years to come so I didn’t want it to be outside the Treaty in that sense.