Hague refuses to drop 10-year euro embargo

William Hague yesterday slap-ped down a call from Lord Howe, the former Deputy Prime Minister, that he should drop his 10-year Tory embargo on a European single currency.

The re-emergence of the single currency row is ominous for the Conservative Party because it remains the biggest split in the party's ranks, and Labour will be delighted that Mr Hague has refused to budge. Mr Hague also said he would be attempting to generate Tory unity by asking all 164 Tory MPs for an "away day" weekend - which, according to one senior Tory source, would end up with "at least one Agatha Christie-style murder".

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend, the new leader said that he stood by his leadershjip campaign pledge to go into the next election, in five years' time, arguing against single currency membership for the lifetime of a further five-year Parliament.

"We will be discussing the whole subject in more detail over the coming years in the party," Mr Hague said. "But of course I will expect our policy to be the one that I set out in the leadership election."

Given such hard-and-fast words, it is difficult for the party to change course now, without changing leader.

Nevertheless, Lord Howe, who resigned from the Conservative government in 1990, and helped precipitate the downfall of Margaret Thatcher over European policy, said yesterday that the party would have to re-think its position.

He told GMTV's Sunday programme that the Tory stand on the single currency compared with Labour's damaging stand against nuclear weapons in the early 1980s.

"One has to compare it with the fact that the Labour Party in 1983 ruled out nuclear weapons from our armoury forever, and the manifesto on which they fought the last election committed them to maintaining Trident," he said. "People do change their positions.

"We've now got a situation in which the single currency's coming very close ... I think the Conservative Party has got time in which to re-think its position on that."