Redwood forces Europe debate

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The Independent Online


John Redwood, the former cabinet minister, will thrust the row over Europe back onto centre stage at the CBI conference by staging a last- minute fringe meeting at lunchtime today.

Mr Redwood's debate will come immediately after the official CBI debate on Europe and is in danger of stealing the limelight from Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is scheduled to speak later in the day.

Adair Turner, director-general of the CBI, denied that the organisation had been embarrassed by Mr Redwood's intervention. He said CBI policies reflected solid majorities of opinion among members but added that on issues such as European monetary union they had called for a "rational fact-based debate".

He said the issue had not been debated in an open and rational fashion in the past and the fringe meeting was "thoroughly to be welcomed". A CBI survey last week showed most members do not want to close the door on monetary union.

Sir Bryan Nicholson, CBI president, acknowledged the existence of an Euro-sceptic movement in the CBI but he himself could not attend Mr Redwood's forum. "I am busy at the main meeting."

He said there were disenchanted minorities within the CBI because it was a diverse organisation. CBI officials said with no official lunchtime speaker, Mr Redwood had timed his intervention well.

Mr Redwood's fringe meeting contrasts starkly with the official flavour of the morning debate, which features enthusiastic pro-European businessmen such as Niall Fitzgerald, a vice chairman of the Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever, and Dick Evans, chief executive of British Aerospace, as well as Sir Leon Brittan, vice president of the European Commission.