Heseltine defied by Euro-sceptics

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Tory Euro-sceptic MPs defied pleas for unity last night and made it clear at a stormy meeting with Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, that they would go ahead with plans to issue personal manifestos at the election opposing a single European currency.

He told the MPs in the Commons that issuing personal manifestos rejecting the Government's "wait and see" policy would be a "self-inflicted wound". Mr Heseltine warned that appearing divided would "seriously prejudice" the Tories' election chances. But his pleas to the Thatcherite 92 Group went unheeded and the Deputy Prime Minister emerged empty-handed.

A source who witnessed the confrontation said: "It was the most unpleasant meeting Mr Heseltine can have attended in a long time ... he said that if they issued personal manifestos, he would be hounded throughout the election about the difference in views.

"He said the Cabinet would not change its policy before the election. Some tried to press him on who was blocking the change, but he would not be drawn."

The Tory Euro-sceptics are predicted to defy the whips today by backing a bill by Teresa Gorman, the MP for Billericay, proposing a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. Mrs Gorman was pressed last week by the Chief Whip, Alastair Goodlad, to drop the bill.

The whips were optimistic that her support would be small, but last night leading the Euro-sceptics, John Redwood and Bill Cash, were expected to back the bill. It will be seen as a demonstration that, in spite of the election, the Tory Euro-sceptic right wing is adamant in its opposition to a single currency.