Hague keen on US link

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SECRET TALKS by senior Tories over the possibility of Britain joining forces economically with America were thrown into disarray last night by Shaun Woodward's defection.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that members of the Shadow Cabinet have met Republican senators on Capitol Hill for talks about future British membership of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

William Hague sanctioned the talks, in a bid to provide a credible alternative to Britain being a member of the European Union. The Conservatives had hoped it would play well at the ballot box and shift the European debate.

But last night the move appeared to be a tactical blunder as the party continued to fall apart around Hague's ears and Woodward attacked his "extreme and dangerous policies on Europe".

Labour will claim that the Tories are planning to make Britain the 51st state of America.