Clarke talks up EMU in Brussels

Chancellor's pledge on single currency comes as one rebel calls for his head and others rally to referendum Bill
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Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, yesterday brushed aside Cabinet feuding over Europe, insisting in Brussels that Britain would "work constructively" towards preparing for a single currency.

Invoking France's damaging boycott of European institutions during the 1960s, Mr Clarke told a news conference: "General de Gaulle operated a policy of the empty chair. Britain does not."

But last night he was urged by Bill Cash, a leading Tory Euro-sceptic, to quit to end the "chaos" in the party. Mr Cash, the MP for Stafford, told Radio 4's PM prgramme that he no longer had confidence in him as Chancellor, suggesting he might be "better off arguing his case from the back benches".

Mr Clarke was speaking after a meeting of European finance ministers, and appeared to be paving the way for Britain's full involvement in discussion on a forthcoming European Commission Green Paper setting out the practical procedures for monetary union, to go before the EU Cannes summit in June.

His pledge came as an all-party alliance of leading pro- Europeans suggested that persistent Government Euro -scepticism might lead to a multi-tier Europe, in which a hard core of federalist countries should press on with further integration.

In the meantime, eight Tory Euro-rebels yesterday launched an appeal for MPs of all parties to turn up on Friday to vote for a Private Member's Bill to secure a referendum.

The Bill, sponsored by Teresa Gorman and backed by seven further rebels excluded from the party, calls for the plebiscite to be held no later than the end of this year, to enable public opinion to be tested well in advance of next year's Inter- Governmental Conference.

At sixth in the list of this session's Private Members' measures, it stands a remote chance of making some progress, but only if sufficient MPs make the effort to attend. Undaunted, Mrs Gorman said a referendum would unite the party and raise appreciation of John Major as a Prime Minister "who wanted to trust the people".

A more pragmatic approach appears to have been adopted in a series of papers from the Federal Trust "round table" group on the IGC, launched by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the Liberal Democrat peer. He warned yesterday that for the Government to allow a federal core of EU states to press on with strengthening the Union and making it more democratic would be "very much a second best, for it leads us straight down the dreary road which we have so often followed in the past: decline to join at the beginning, let others shape the future and then come in belatedly and half-heartedly, complain- ing that the scheme does not exactly suit us".

The first paper, State of the Union, none the less recognises the notion of a "multi-tier, multi-layer" Europe. If Britain and other states were set on vetoing treaty revisions, a priority for the IGC would be agreement to allow for the formation of a more federal core, it says. "A wise solution is for all member states to accept proposals for the simultaneous deepening and widening of the Union."