Howe attacks EU doubters

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THE Conservatives risk losing the next election by sliding into 'Euroscepticaemia', Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, warned yesterday.

He called for a battle to 'recapture the heart and soul' of the Tory party for Europe.

In a direct warning to the Prime Minister that he must take on Euro-sceptics in his Cabinet and party and argue his case for Europe more vigorously, Lord Howe, who resigned from Margaret Thatcher's government over Europe, also made the same appeal to the pro-Europeans in John Major's Cabinet.

His call came after the bulk of them, including the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, held their fire at the party conference last week in the interests of party unity, leaving the stage to Michael Portillo and other Cabinet Euro-sceptics.

Interviewed on LWT's Walden, Lord Howe said that there was a danger of 'sliding into a Euro-sceptic mode, and Euro-scepticaemia spreading through the party, and at worst through the nation . . . If it happens we enhance considerably the risk of a Labour government and all that follows from that.'

The Prime Minister had said he did not want an inner- core Europe with the UK cast on the periphery.

'But if he is to avoid that happening, then he does need, and his colleagues do need, to argue even more strongly than they are doing, the positive case for European union. That would increasingly diminish the credibility and relevance of the straight banana, Portillo-type speech,' Lord Howe said.

Mr Major would face 'a tough time in his own party', but Labour leaders who had faced down 'people on the extreme' in their party had grown stronger.

Over the past week Lord Howe has appeared to adopt the role of spokesman for the Cabinet pro-Europeans which Norman Tebbit in the past has played for the Eurosceptics. Yesterday he said Tories who believed in Europe had seen their opponents 'become more and more outspoken and more and more misguided . . .

We have concluded, more and more of us, that the battle has got to be fought to recapture the heart and soul of the Conservative Party.'

His warning of the risks of a Labour government comes before Tony Blair and Mr Major face each other for the first time at Prime Minister's questions this week - the first test of whether the new, less confrontational, style of politics that all three party leaders have claimed they want can be created.

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