Heseltine takes charge in battle against sceptics

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The Independent Online
Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, yesterday put himself at the head of a ministerial fight-back intended to arrest the lurch towards Euro-scepticism in his party's attitude to European Union institutional reform and a single currency.

In a clear sign that John Major's carefully balanced speech on Europe on Friday has not suppressed sharp Cabinet divisions, Mr Heseltine went his furthest for many months in re- establishing his pro-EU credentials by emphasising that "we actually have a major European self-interest now".

Mr Heseltine's language was in contrast to that of Jonathan Aitken, the right-of-centre Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who strongly reiterated his opposition to a single currency "for as far as I can possible foresee".

Mr Aitken said on the GMTV Sunday Programme that he "very much" hoped the nine whipless Euro-rebels would "respond, as many of them are privately, very constructively to the olive branches which have been extended to them".

In terms that will go a long way to deflect complaints from Tory pro-Europeans that allies in the Cabinet have not been forceful enough in public, Mr Heseltine acknowledged on BBC radio's The World This Weekend that there had been a shift in public opinion against Europe because of the recession coinciding with "indigestion" over new rules needed to enforce the single market.

But he added: "You can react in two ways to such a shift.One is to say the public must be right - sometimes they are. The other is to put over the positive arguments of British self- interest in the belief that you ought to lead public opinion back in the direction in which it's best served."

Mr Heseltine insisted that he, the rest of the Cabinet, and Mr Major had a "very common accord on these matters" but added: "I've been around quite a long time. I haven't changed my mind on these major issues and I think it's unlikely that I will now, and I certainly won't do it in order to pander to a whim of what happens to be potentially a temporary change of some people's opinions." On a single currency, he suggested that with British companies located in a Europe operating in the new common currency, the effects of a single currency could "come to this country whether you like it or not".

The F-word, Essay, page 13