Michael Heseltine, former deputy prime minister said this week that Thatcherites were plotting to replace Mr Hague and install Mr Portillo as a leader who would rule out ever joining the single European currency. Mr Portillo told a meeting staged by the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward group that Mr Hague was right to take his "courageous" decision to ballot members on the single currency: "He has the party's overwhelming support."
In a coded attack on Mr Heseltine and his followers, he said: "The only split in the party now is between those who support the leader and those who are campaigning against him." In contrast, he highlighted common ground between him and Kenneth Clarke, the party's other most prominent pro-European, saying they both believed the EU should not take over control of tax and spending policies.
He said that, following the single-currency ballot, Mr Hague was in a position to give the British people a choice. Mr Portillo will not silence the speculation about his future. Writing in The Independent on Saturday, he said the Tories had made "no visible advance" and that shadow ministers had mainly failed to make an impact.