New divisions over Europe emerged yesterday after Sir Alan Walters, former economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher, announced his intention to fight Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, for his Rushcliffe seat as a candidate for the party set up by billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith.
Mr Clarke, who holds the Nottinghamshire constituency with a 19,766 majority, declared that arch Euro-sceptic Sir Alan, who helped bring about Nigel Lawson's resignation as Chancellor in 1989, did not live in the real world, while other Tory MPs joined Mr Clarke in condemning the entire Referendum Party enterprise as one that could let in Labour or the Liberal Democrats in marginal seats by splitting the Conservative vote.
The immense wealth of Sir James, elected as an MEP last year for L'Autre Europe, the political grouping which he chairs, has enabled him to pour many thousands of pounds into his new British party. It plans to fight in the next election in every mainland constituency where Tory and Labour candidates have not publicly supported calls for a referendum on Britain's links with Europe, and says that a further crop of high-profile figures are among the 1,500 people who have put their names forward as candidates.
Sir James lives in France and Mexico, while Sir Alan spends most of his time in America. But among those likely to resent such foreign interference are those with equally Euro-sceptic views.
A warning was even sounded by Gerald Howarth, the Thatcherite former MP who is standing for ultra-safe Aldershot at the next election and whose PR firm, Taskforce Communications, is acting for Sir James through fellow director Patrick Robertson, former secretary of the anti-Brussels Bruges Group.
Mr Howarth declared that recent interference by the European Court of Justice, such as on prescription charges for men at 60, was unacceptable, adding: "People must understand that this is not some abstract issue. What the Conservative party must do
Sir James's move has also provoked the anger of Alan Sked, the leader of the far less financially well-endowed UK Independence Party, which secured 157,000 votes in last year's European Parliament elections. Dr Sked, another founder-member of the Bruges Group has accused Sir James of wanting to remain within a EU protected by high-tariff barriers, and has dismissed as barmy his foray into British politics.
Sir Alan's choice of Kenneth Clarke's constituency - which he has a virtually nil chance of winning - appears little more than symbolic, but is calculated to cause maximum embarrassment to John Major, who is not firmly committed either way to a referendum, and Mr Clarke, who is opposed.Reuse content