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web posted March 25, 2002

Thatcher: Britain must start to quit EU

The time has come for Britain to start pulling out of the European Union, according to Baroness Margaret Thatcher. She damns the EU as "fundamentally unreformable".

The former Prime Minister says in her new book, serialised in The Times, that most of the problems the world has faced, including Nazism and Marxism, have come from mainland Europe. Enoch Powell had been right when he gave warning in the 1970s that entry to the Common Market involved an unacceptable loss of sovereignty.

Lady Thatcher calls for renegotiation of Britains terms of EU membership to enable it to leave the common agricultural and fisheries policies, the common foreign and security policy, and to reassert domestic control over trade policy. She also suggests joining the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, a decision that would be seen as incompatible with EU membership.

Although she does not say it in so many words, such moves would mean that Britain was no longer effectively in the EU. In any event the demands, which she urges an incoming Tory government to make as a preliminary step, would be refused by the rest of the EU, leaving Britain no alternative but to quit.

She writes in Statecraft: "It is frequently said to be unthinkable that Britain should leave the European Union. But the avoidance of thought about this is a poor substitute for judgment."

Lady Thatcher's views will embarrass Iain Duncan Smith after a period in which the Tory leader has engineered a party truce on Europe and at a time when he is preparing to modernise his party's appeal.

While he is poised today to attack Tony Blair over the outcome of the Barcelona summit, the Prime Minister is certain to use the Commons exchanges to challenge him to disavow Lady Thatcher. Her remarks will be a godsend to a Government struggling to recover from accusations of sleaze and lack of delivery over public service reform.

Duncan Smith was always one of Lady Thatcher's strongest supporters, and there are several members of the Shadow Cabinet, such as Bernard Jenkin, John Whittingdale, John Bercow and Tim Collins, who would privately agree with much of what she says. As many as 30 Tory MPs would probably privately support a "withdrawalist" line.

Duncan Smith has successfully urged his colleagues to speak less about Europe and to concentrate on domestic issues. While making plain that the Tories would campaign against the euro if there was a referendum, he has taken the sting out of the debate by saying that MPs would be free to campaign in the opposite camp if they wished.

Duncan Smith's spokesman said of Lady Thatchers remarks: "Naturally relations between Iain and Lady Thatcher are close and cordial and she has done us the courtesy of sending an advance copy of the book. We will not comment directly on the book but we will read it with interest.

"Iain's position on Europe was summed up in an article last weekend.

He said: "We must keep our currency. It is the only way we can be masters of our own taxes, mortgage rates and spending on our schools and hospitals. I will never allow EU membership to mean Britain loses control over its own destiny. While I lead the Conservatives I will always fight to keep the pound."

Lady Thatcher stops short of calling for a total withdrawal from Europe, preferring to retain some existing arrangements while opting out of "present and future mechanisms which harm our interests or restrict our freedom of action".

This might not be as difficult as it sounds because the "blunt truth is that the rest of the European Union needs us more than we need them."

Britain had substantial advantages in any renegotiation because it was a substantial net importer from the rest of the EU, a substantial contributor to the CAP, its fish stocks were extremely important to other countries, and it remained a global power.

She goes on: "Against this background we should have every confidence that we can achieve a sensible framework within which to defend and pursue our interest while having co-operative relations with the European countries.

"The preliminary step, I believe, should be for an incoming Conservative government to declare publicly that it seeks fundamental renegotiation of Britain's terms of EU membership. The objectives would be a withdrawal from the CAP, an end to our adherence to the common fisheries policy, withdrawal from all the entanglements of a common foreign and security policy and a reassertion of control of our trade policy."

Lady Thatcher's coolness towards Europe is legendary, but her book takes it to a new intensity.

"During my lifetime most of the problems the world has faced have come, in one fashion or another, from mainland Europe, and the solutions from outside it," she writes.

"That generalisation is clearly true of the Second World War. Nazism was, after all, a European ideology, the Third Reich an attempt at European domination.

Report: No Whitewater charges for Clintons

Independent Counsel Robert Ray concluded in his final Whitewater report, released March 20, that Bill and Hillary Clinton's land venture benefited from criminal transactions but there was insufficient evidence to prove the former president or his wife engaged in wrongdoing.

The report also said prosecutors could not rule out the possibility that Hillary Rodham Clinton played a role in the disappearance and mysterious discovery of her law firm billing records.

The five-volume report wrapped up a six-year investigation by three prosecutors of the Clintons' finances and detailed the business transactions they undertook with partners Jim and Susan McDougal.

The McDougals were convicted of crimes and imprisoned in the Whitewater investigation in connection with a failed savings and loan they operated.

The report said Jim McDougal wrongly used funds from the failing S&L to benefit the Whitewater venture in Arkansas he created with Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, and Mrs. Clinton, then a practicing lawyer.

"Insufficient evidence exists to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that either Governor or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in the criminal financial transactions used by McDougal to benefit Whitewater," the report said.

The Clintons' lawyer, David Kendall, called the report "the most expensive exoneration in history. Their investigation was unprecedented in its seven-year length, $70 million expense and unremitting intensity. But it ends as it began: with no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Clintons." The investigation began in 1994 and ended in 2000.

Part of the investigation focused on a fraudulent $300,000 federally backed loan that a Little Rock judge claimed he was pressured by Clinton to make to the McDougals, who operated the failed Madison Guaranty S&L.

"Insufficient evidence also exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Governor Clinton knew of or approved" the loan, Ray's report said.

"There is some evidence that Governor Clinton knew or should have known that Jim McDougal was not conducting Madison Guaranty's affairs as required by banking rules," it said.

The report related an incident in which the Arkansas banking commissioner told Clinton in 1983 there were problems at Madison. The report said Clinton told the commissioner to do whatever was necessary and not to worry about politics.

The report also focused extensively on Mrs. Clinton's legal work on an Arkansas land development called Castle Grande that was operated by Jim McDougal and partly financed by his failed S&L. The former first lady is now a senator representing New York.

Mrs. Clinton's legal work on the project wasn't disclosed until 1996, when her law firm billing records, which had been subpoenaed earlier in the case, were found in the White House family residence.

Prosecutors investigated whether there was an attempt to obstruct by hiding the records. The report said, "The evidence gathered could not exclude the possibility that Mrs. Clinton put the billing records in Room 319A." It noted that she gave sworn testimony "denying placing them in Room 319A or knowing how they got there."

Much of the evidence about Mrs. Clinton's activity as a lawyer for McDougal could have been laid out in a trial of her former law firm partner Webster Hubbell, who was later associate U.S. attorney general. Hubbell avoided trial by pleading guilty to a felony.

The inspector general's office of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. concluded that Mrs. Clinton helped draft a legal document on Castle Grande that was later used by the S&L to mislead federal bank examiners.

A panel of three federal appeals court judges that appointed Ray released the report about a year and a half after he announced his investigation had ended.

The $70 million investigation of the Clintons engendered bitterness in Washington and across America as Democratic defenders clashed with Republican opponents over the merits of the Whitewater allegations.

Whitewater came to light during the 1992 presidential campaign when The New York Times revealed the Clintons had been business partners in a real estate deal with the McDougals, whose S&L's collapse had cost taxpayers more than $65 million.

The Clintons said they lost money in the Whitewater venture.

The news stories triggered an inquiry by federal S&L regulators, culminating in a criminal investigation of the Clintons and successful prosecutions of their business partners and then-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker for fraud in connection with various loans.

A succession of prosecutors looked into the Clintons' role -- first Robert Fiske, then Kenneth Starr and finally Ray.

In an attempt to reduce his prison sentence, Jim McDougal cooperated with prosecutors. He died in prison, leaving investigators without their most important witness. McDougal's former wife, Susan, refused to cooperate with prosecutors. Clinton pardoned her just before he left office in January 2001.

In a separate report earlier this month, Ray contended he probably could have gotten a conviction against the former president in the scandal involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

On his last full day in office, Clinton avoided the possibility of criminal indictment by admitting he "knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers" about his sexual relationship with Lewinsky. Clinton also surrendered his law license for five years.

Manitoba man who registered soldering gun as a protest could get jail time

A Canadian man who successfully registered his soldering gun as a firearm says he did so to point out the absurdity of the federal gun registry program.

But Brian Buckley's act of civil disobedience may create more problems than he bargained for. Government officials aren't happy and, according to the Criminal Code, he could go to jail for up to five years. Buckley, who has a possession-only firearms licence, said he got a form to register his guns in the mail around Christmas time.

By law, all firearms must be registered by Jan. 1, 2003.

However, Canadians have not been quick to comply and that forced Ottawa to waive registration fees last October in an attempt to get more guns listed.

Buckley, who is an autobody shop owner, said he is opposed to the new gun laws and calls the registration process a waste of time and money.

So he decided to play with the system.

"I just filled it in," he said. "I put my Black & Decker heat gun and my Weller soldering gun on there, didn't stamp it, and sent it back in."

He listed the "guns" as a non-restricted firearm, the same as most shotguns or hunting rifles. In the spot asking for the gun's make, he filled out Black & Decker/Weller. In the spot for type, he put heat gun/soldering gun.

When the registration card came back a few weeks later, Buckley couldn't believe his eyes.

"It never once occurred to me that it would be taken seriously and that I would get a certificate and be issued a registration number," Buckley said. "It never crossed my mind that they are that incompetent there."

David Austin, a spokesman for the Canadian Firearms Centre, was not laughing when he heard about the protest.

Austin said what Buckley did was provide false information to procure a registration and that is against the law.

He may have filled out the application with the correct information about the tools, but neither are firearms and that in itself is a violation.

"It's a serious matter," Austin said. "If he looks at it very carefully, he will see there is a requirement to provide accurate information on a registration form for a firearm."

Austin said that when non-restricted gun registrations come in, they are not verified by a real person right away. The forms are scanned into the national data base of guns and certificates are sent out as soon as possible to avoid a backlog.

Each registration is verified by someone eventually, Austin said, and Buckley's would have been caught.

"You've got to understand that millions of these things are coming in at one time and it will take a while to go back," Austin said. "But we will go back."

If convicted of providing false information to get a gun registration certificate, an individual faces anything from a $2,000 fine and six months in jail to five years behind bars.

Austin said officials at the gun registry contacted him March 20 to begin an investigation, but not much was said.

"The question is for what purpose do you do this?" Austin said. "It's just going to end up costing the taxpayers more money while we straighten it out."

Inky Mark, member of Parliament, for Dauphin-Swan River supports Buckley and put out a media release about the licence.

"I would say he's made his point," Mark said. "He's shown how the system doesn't function."

Mark said registering a soldering gun may not be a security risk, but it certainly is a mark against a system designed to protect Canadians.

"The whole premise of registration is safety," Mark said. "If the premise is safety, then there should be little room for error."

Harper wins Canadian Alliance leadership in cakewalk, promises to broaden and rebuild the party

Stephen Harper won a decisive victory March 20 over Stockwell Day to claim the Canadian Alliance leadership and immediately vowed to begin rebuilding the troubled party so it can challenge the "visionless" Liberal government for power in the next election.

Stephen HarperHarper, the 42-year-old former Reform MP, won 55% of the vote in the party's mail-in election, compared with 37.5% for Day, the former leader who resigned last year after threats of a caucus mutiny.

"You have just voted to move our party forward into the future," Harper told a cheering crowd of 400 people at the Calgary convention centre. "You have voted to build on our past successes and move beyond our recent difficulties and to become the kind of alternative to the Liberals that this country so badly requires."

Harper said he plans to put a transition team in place immediately to assume the reins of power in the party.

The new leader said his goal is to rebuild the Alliance and "bring together all who share our values and our visions -- reformers, like-minded PCs and others regardless of their previous political affiliation."

He has said in the past he won't work with Joe Clark, the Tory leader, but after his victory he said he would at least listen.

"I've said I won't play telephone tag with Joe, but if the Tories are serious, we'd have those discussions."

Clark said that he hopes to find some common ground with the new leader, although he noted, " Harper has taken a hard line throughout."

Clark said he had tried to call Harper to congratulate him but was unable to get through.

The lopsided victory for Harper surprised many observers who believed he and Day, whose leadership of the party was one of the most troubled in Canadian political history, were in a neck-and-neck race.

More than 70% of the party's 124,000 members voted in the race. Harper won 48,561 votes to Day's 33,074.

Day appealed to party members and MPs to pull together and support Harper, and said he is glad there was no need for a second ballot, which had promised to bring another round of personal attacks and division in the party.

"This is great to have it done on a first ballot. Second ballots are to be avoided at all costs. We are glad it is a conclusive result," Day said. "It is time for us as a party to stand behind our leader."

The two so-called "unity candidates" in the race finished well behind the frontrunners. Diane Ablonczy, the third-term MP, won 3,370 votes and Dr. Grant Hill finished fourth with 3,223 votes.

Dr. Hill said the vote was a signal that the party has chosen internal rebuilding over efforts to unite with the Progressive Conservatives. Harper, however, offered a sign of hope for supporters of a Tory-Alliance coalition, saying he believes the party needs to expand to include Conservatives who share Alliance policies.

Harper is already facing a potential battle simply to get into the House of Commons.

Many members of the Harper campaign team want the new leader to run in Calgary Southwest, the riding vacated in January with the retirement of Preston Manning.

"I have said I would rather go in [to Parliament] sooner rather than later," Mr Harper said, adding Calgary Southwest is "one option."

But supporters of Ezra Levant, the party's nominated candidate in the riding, were resisting calls for him to step aside to make way for Harper.

"A decision has been made. Ezra is the candidate," said Pierre Poilievre, communications director for Levant.

Levant said he is willing to discuss the idea with Harper, but suggested he has the right to run because he was nominated by grassroots members.

"We both share the same belief in grassroots decision-making. That is what selected Stephen tonight and that is what selected me as a candidate," Levant said.

"If we are going to make a change, let's sit down, Stephen Harper and me, the grassroots executive [in my riding] and talk."

One of Harper's first decisions will be how to handle Day, who plans to remain as an MP for his B.C. riding.

A senior Harper advisor said one proposal being floated is to name Day a senior critic for federal-provincial relations, which would allow him to use his experience as a former provincial politician.

Alliance MPs who backed Harper said they were relieved Day had lost because the party now has a chance to get beyond the infighting that prompted seven MPs to leave the caucus over the last year.

"I think that this is going to more than just stabilize our party," MP Art Hanger said.

"We are going to get past all this conflict of the past few years. I think the future looks pretty bright with him at the helm."

Harper interrupted a live television interview to take a congratulatory telephone call from Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, who is attending an international summit in Mexico.

The result brings the party's leadership crisis full circle. It was at a fiery Alliance caucus meeting last summer that Day capitulated to the demands of angry MPs and vowed to step down to trigger the leadership race.

He formally resigned in December and launched his comeback candidacy a month later.

The campaign itself was a low-key affair, generating far less publicity than the inaugural Alliance race in 2000 that pitted Day against Manning.

But at times, it was equally as nasty. Harper infuriated the Day campaign and members of Canada's evangelical Christian community by accusing them of signing up party members who sought to turn the party into an anti-abortion movement.

In turn, Day sought to portray Harper as a political quitter by criticizing his decision in 1997 to resign from politics and leave the Reform Party.

For a party that stressed the importance of policy during its creation two years ago, issues took a back seat to the broader question of leadership skills and a frantic scramble to sign up new members.

Day won the recruitment campaign by selling 28,000 new and lapsed members, while Harper claimed 16,000. Harper commanded support from a strong majority of the party's 68,000 pre-campaign members.

The leadership race succeeded, at least in part, at rebuilding the party's decimated membership. By campaign's end, the party's had almost doubled its membership rolls. But it is still far short of the 270,000 members its claimed prior to the 2000 federal election.

Although both Dr. Hill and Ablonczy worked hard to turn the leadership race into a debate over how to unite the political right, their campaigns floundered. Their poor showing signals Alliance members are not yet ready to aggressively pursue a political coalition with the Conservatives, partly out of campaign fatigue and partly because they feel a need to rebuild their own political vehicle first.

Although the Alliance will hold a national policy convention next month in Edmonton, the first priority is to re-establish political peace within the caucus and the party's governing national council.

Harper has the support of 29 of the Alliance's 57 members of Parliament and many of them have waged internal war against Day for close to a year. Day, however, has a strong and dedicated following in caucus himself. Personal animosities and political rivalries within the caucus are intense and, given the party's recent history, will be difficult for the new leader to overcome.

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