Election '97 : Tories take cash bait from millionaire foe of EMU

Sykes predicts most candidates will accept his aid to stop march of federalism
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The Independent Online
Paul Sykes, the multi-millionaire who is funding Tory candidates opposed to the single currency, predicted yesterday that all but around 30 of those eligible will take up his offer of support.

Mr Sykes is giving between pounds 1,000 and pounds 3,000 to the constituency associations of MPs who say they are opposed to a single currency in their election addresses.

He is only giving money to the associations of the 344 seats where Tories won last time and he says that by last night 230 had accepted his offer. "With around 80 ministers who have to follow the party line, that leaves fewer than 30 MPs and candidates who agree with the wait and see policy," he said. "I am doing this out of love for my countrymen. I think ordinary people are having a rotten deal."

The miner's son from Barnsley who made a fortune in various businesses, including selling second hand buses, property and now information technology, regrets having stood down as Conservative candidate in the town over concerns that he would divided the party on Europe.

He said: "It is clear that nearly all MPs agree with me that we should rule out a single currency and rule it out now. It is a project being pushed forward by bureaucrats and technocrats, and politicians are just being dragged along.

Mr Sykes is a self-made man who in his youth was a socialist but he became disillusioned by the culture created by dependency on the state: "My mother saved up to get a new door and fireplace on her council house. But when the local councillor, Comrade so-and-so, saw the door, the council made her take it off because it was different from the others. They let her keep the fireplace, though."

He left school at 15 and took a job as a bottle packer but found that he wasn't allowed to work overtime because of union rules. This led him to cross the political divide.

His first business was selling old buses to Third World countries and he became a millionaire by the age of 24. He is now 53 and worth "at least three figures" of millions.

Mr Sykes says his gesture in supporting candidates is to help stimulate debate in the party, and not to try to buy favours: "They haven't changed their stance because of my money. They know the feeling of people they are meeting out there and they know ordinary people do not want a federal Europe. All debate is being stifled. Maastricht was a rotten deal."

Despite being a businessman in a sphere which is international, Mr Sykes has absolutely no truck with the arguments in favour of a single currency. "The single currency is not just about going abroad without having to change money. It's about creating a federal Europe. Chancellor Kohl is quite straight about that. There is no example in the world where you have a sovereign country which doesn't have its own currency. Commons sense tells you that it will ultimately become a single country."

He is not, however, anti-Europe: "Germany is one of the biggest investors here. I want free trade, not a federal Europe."

Mr Sykes, who retains his strong Yorkshire accent and a typically blunt view of the world, lives in a 17th-century manor house in North Yorkshire with his wife and the two youngest of his children. He says he will not pass on any of his wealth to them: "I am not going to leave them any money. I don't want to ruin their lives."