Heseltine rounds on the Tory Euro-rebels

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Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, yesterday turned on Euro- rebels who cost their party victory in the Commons on Tuesday night with a warning that they could precipitate a Labour victory.

In a barely disguised appeal to constituency parties to exercise more leverage over their MPs, Mr Heseltine declared: "Are they trying to replace this Conservative government with a Labour government which will abandon all the safeguards that John Major has secured in Europe? Their constituency associations had better ask these sorts of question."

As Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, said scathingly of the rebels who defied the government motion over fishing quotas that "they know little about fishing and care even less", Mr Heseltine told BBC Radio's The World at One: "It's time for people to say some fairly frank things. This isn't a sort of game."

There was particular bitterness over the decision by William Cash, the Euro-sceptic MP for Stafford, to vote against the Government. It was said Conservative Central Office had gone out of its way to provide help with Mr Cash's successful efforts to secure his reselection two months ago.

But there was a contrast between reactions of pro-European and Euro- sceptic ministers. One Euro-sceptic professed to be relatively relaxed about the long-term impact and said that the rebellion had not been as large as feared.

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, came under fire from some Euro-sceptic Tories because of his acknowledgement in Madrid last weekend that monetary union may go ahead. Mr Clarke is thought by many MPs to believe that the EMU study demanded by John Major into the relations between countries inside and outside monetary union will find that the problems thrown up by Mr Major will prove soluble.

Government tempers were not improved by the discovery that two Tories had apparently failed to vote for the Government because they thought the division was at 10pm rather than 7pm. Asked if he and Sir Michael Marshall were the two late-comers, Michael Spicer said that his absence from the division had been "subject to an arrangement with the whips". Sir Michael could not be contacted.