Hague clears air with Thatcher over Europe

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The Independent Online
William Hague went to see Baroness Thatcher yesterday to reassure the former prime minister about his views on Europe, and to clear the air after reports that she wanted to block his campaign for the Conservative Party leadership.

Mr Hague impressed Lady Thatcher when he was 16 and addressed the Tory party conference. Twenty years on, "Mother", as she is known by her friends in the party, clearly wanted to see whether her young protege had the backbone to stand up for Britain in Europe.

There had been reports at the weekend that Lady Thatcher wanted Peter Lilley, Michael Howard and John Redwood to combine in the late stages of the campaign to stop either Kenneth Clarke, the ex-Chancellor, or Mr Hague from winning the leadership. Lady Thatcher's office refused to give details of the talks, but a spokesman said: "The only thing she has made clear is that she is not getting involved in the leadership race in the initial stages at all. She is not endorsing publicly any candidate."

The 45-minute meeting over tea and biscuits in her London private office was seen by Mr Hague's supporters as a boost for his campaign, although she will not endorse any candidate in the first round. That leaves the way open for Lady Thatcher to make her endorsement in the second ballot to tip the balance against Mr Clarke.

The meeting was arranged after a call last week from the Hague camp, which made an initial approach at the start of the leadership race. Lady Thatcher recently met Tony Blair at Downing Street and has seen some of the candidates for the Tory leadership, but has no plans to meet Mr Clarke.

The ex-Chancellor last night hardened his stance on a European single currency by calling for monetary union to be delayed beyond the planned start date of January 1999. He was accused by Tory Euro-sceptics of holding John Major to ransom in the election by refusing to budge on the single currency. "If he had said this before, it could have made a difference. It will make people more angry," a Tory MP said.

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