In a measured speech - his first since his heart attack in the summer - to the Confederation of British Industry conference, in Harrogate, Mr Heseltine said that Britain risked alienating itself with the language and imagery used to depict its continental partners.
His comments were being seen last night as an attempt to re-establish the Government's European credentials after doubts expressed last week by the CBI director general, Howard Davies, over the Tory commitment to Europe.
Mr Heseltine told 1,000 business leaders: 'We will serve ourselves not at all if the language with which we describe our continental partners, the imagery with which we paint them, and the insularity with which we attempt to rewrite the history of the past 40 years has the effect of alienating ourselves and our self-interest from the very people on whom we are most dependent.'
He was later tackled on whether the 'we' included his Cabinet colleague Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, but refused to respond, saying he would not be drawn into splitting the Government on the issue.
Earlier in the day Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, said, in a speech delivered for him because he had flu, that 'less than scrupulous individuals' seemed intent on sabotaging progress towards European integration. This was taken to be a reference to Europhobes within the Tory party, among others.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, appeared lukewarm over the creation of an independent Bank of England free to set interest rates without political interference.
Responding to calls from CBI leaders for the Bank to be given greater independence in the operation of monetary policy, the Chancellor joked that only former chancellors supported the idea. Mr Clarke later added that Parliament would not back such a move.
Peter Sutherland, director general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, delivered a stark warning to world leaders that they would stand accused of political abdication if they failed to deliver agreement on a world trade deal by the 15 December deadline.
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