London (CNSNews.com) - Flanked by pro-European Conservatives Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, Prime Minister Tony Blair hit back Thursday at what he called the "shrill" arguments of the anti-European faction in British politics.
One week after the opposition Conservative Party held its most "Euro-skeptic" conference in years, Blair, Clarke and Heseltine helped launch the cross-party "Britain in Europe" campaign in central London.
Blair called the campaign a "patriotic cause," deflecting the arguments of those who worry that Britain may lose economic and, eventually, political sovereignty to a European "superstate."
Three-and-a-half million British jobs and 50 per cent of its trade depended on Europe, Blair said, adding: "The people here represent a patriotic alliance that puts country before party."
Britain's relationship with the United States is stronger because of Britain's ties toEurope, Blair argued, responding to those who fear the "special" Anglo-American relationship is being jeopardized by the emphasis on ties with Europe.
He said the Americans value the British both in their own right, and "even more as people who have influence in Europe, who can talk to key European allies and who are respected both in the U.S. and in Europe.
"Likewise, we are stronger in Europe if strong with the U.S. Stronger together, influential with both. And a bridge between the two."
Britons wary of EU domination are unlikely to be comforted by a news report published in London today, saying European Commission President Romano Prodi will next week release a "radical blueprint" for a more powerful EU, with far greater integration between members and a curtailing of veto powers.
Prodi spoke Wednesday of uniting the continent of Europe "for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire," and announced he would like to see the EU's membership expand from 15 to 28 countries within the next several years.
Until recently, even the six leading applicants for membership - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus - were not thought likely to join before 2005.
Blair has portrayed the Conservative Party as "extremist" on Europe. But Conservative leader William Hague points to the results of last summer's European elections - which saw Blair's Labor party trounced - as evidence that he (Hague) is reading the public mood accurately.
Hague called last week for Britain to be "in Europe, but not ruled by Europe."
He said a future government led by him would veto a new EU treaty allowing for expanded membership, unless member-states had the right to opt out of rulings they oppose.
Former Conservative prime minister John Major this week said the party's stance on closer European integration was "absurd and crazy," while Chris Patten, a former party chairman, said he feared the Tories were making themselves unelectable.