BONN, JULY 12 -- A British minister who accused the reuniting Germans of plotting to take over Europe rekindled a British-German war of words today that demonstrates how deep for some the scars of World War II can be.
The verbal battle resumed this morning over remarks made in the British magazine Spectator by Britain's trade minister, Nicholas Ridley. In the interview, Ridley called the Germans "uppity" and warned against joining them in a politically united Europe.
"I'm not against giving up sovereignty in principle but not to this lot," Ridley said in the interview. "You might just as well give it to Adolf Hitler." The minister, a close ally of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, called the idea of European monetary union "a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe."
The remarks did not sit well in Bonn, where West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl repeatedly has said that the two Germanys want to reunite only in close consultation with their European neighbors.
By midday, one of Kohl's top ministers, Lutz Stavenhagen, had faxed an outraged statement to nearly every news organization in the country. He called Ridley's remarks "unprecedented . . . scandalous and incomprehensible."
"Either he was drunk when he gave this interview, or he has not gotten over the English football loss to the Germans," said Otto Lambsdorff, chairman of West Germany's Free Democratic Party.
Thatcher quickly put plenty of space between her minister and her government's policies toward Germany and reunification. Within hours, Ridley, who was traveling in Hungary to promote trade with Eastern Europe, issued a statement of his regrets: "On reflection, I very much regret the remarks and unreservedly withdraw them."
The minister's chances of retaining office diminished tonight when members of his own ruling Conservative Party gathered for a private meeting at Westminster and applauded speakers critical of him.
Thatcher said through a spokesman that she was satisfied with Ridley's retraction and would not ask him to leave.
But British government sources in London predicted that the eccentric Ridley, will be forced to resign. Conservative Member of Parliament Hugh Dykes said: "I think Nicholas Ridley's remarks were daft and unacceptable. The prime minister has no choice but to ask him to resign."
Ridley, 61, who smokes about 80 cigarettes a day, is one of the most recognizable ministers in the government, with an unruly shock of white hair and thick black-rimmed glasses. Over his 30 years as a member of Parliament, he has made many gaffes. Among them was to drive his French-made car to a British motor show only days after being named transport minister.
Less than four months ago, Thatcher resolved a verbal battle between West Germany and Britain when she belatedly joined the other Western allies in endorsing quick unification of the two Germanys.
Thatcher's initial misgivings about a rapid end to the postwar division of Germany had provoked an ugly exchange as politicians and quarrelsome newspapers in both countries traded insults. Britain's rowdier newspapers were littered with swastikas, reminders of wartime crimes and caricatures of Kohl and other Germans with Hitler mustaches and Nazi uniforms.
West German papers were quick to respond, calling Thatcher Germany's worst enemy and accusing the British of being unwilling to give new generations of Germans a chance.
Reacting to this most recent round of insults, Britain's opposition Labor Party immediately called for Ridley's ouster. "If Mrs. Thatcher doesn't sack Mr. Ridley today, one can only conclude that she agrees with his views," said Labor spokesman Gerald Kaufman.
Ridley's comments, which focused on growing German economic dominance of Europe, led to losses for the British pound on world markets today. The trade minister -- a son of a viscount, who is not generally inclined to mince words -- accused West Germany's Bundesbank of rushing the rest of Europe into a unified monetary system that almost certainly would be based on the German mark.
"This rushed takeover by the Germans on the worst possible basis, with the French behaving like poodles to the Germans, is absolutely intolerable," Ridley said in the article, which was headlined: "Saying the unsayable about the Germans."
Bundesbank President Karl Otto Poehl, whom Ridley dubbed "damned Poehl," called Ridley's comments "not appropriate."
The German reaction to Ridley's remarks was unusually strong and reflected a longstanding mistrust in Bonn of British support for German unity.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall last November, West Germany's relations with its Western allies have been defined largely by how deeply it perceives each country's support for Kohl's unification policy.
The United States and France jumped aboard the express to German unity early on, winning favor in Kohl's rhetoric.
But Thatcher balked, and despite her later reversal, her recent skepticism about a German-proposed aid package for the Soviet Union has brought her far more German criticism than President Bush has received for his similar reluctance to send financial support to Moscow.
Kohl repeatedly has said that he understands British fears about a reunified Germany, noting that Britain and the Soviet Union, which suffered especially large losses in their battle against the Nazis, must live with painful memories of World War II.
Special correspondent Ewen MacAskill contributed to this report from London.