Hurd adopts tough stance with rebels Hurd issues warning to rebel MPs

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The Independent Online
Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday issued a clear warning to ultra-dissident Tory MPs which underlined a division within the Cabinet on how to handle the revolt in the party's midst.

Mr Hurd declared that ministers were not going "to change the whole of government policy" on Europe in order to ensure that the nine backbenchers who lost the whip in November returned to the fold.

His warning that at least some of the ideas in the "mission statement" issued by eight of the nine rebels on Thursday were "unreal" contrasted sharply in tone with the emollient approach adopted in the statement by Jonathan Aitken, the Chief Secretary tothe Treasury, and some other ministers 24 hours earlier.

Mr Hurd, in an interview with Radio 4's World at One yesterday, pointedly said that after reading the rebels' statement, which implied a British ultimatum on issues like the Common Agricultural Policy, that he did not know whether they wanted Britain to remain in the EU.

He added: "There are ideas there which I think are unreal in the sense that if we push them, we would be in fact withdrawing from the European Union, cutting ourselves off from the single market or putting ourselves under rules we didn't have any share in making."

Pressed on the future of the rebels, Mr Hurd was careful to underline their right to express their views, and added: "They will make up their own minds, they are entitled to do that." But he continued: "We are not going to change the whole of Government policy in order to achieve that particular tactic."

Mr Hurd appeared to be giving the Government's stance a characteristic steer of the tiller after the unexpected chorus of unconcern from some ministers over the rebels' latest rebellion in the fish vote, which was followed swiftly by their manifesto for European reform. That stance was reinforced by Mr Aitken's declaration that he saw opportunities for "bridge building" with the rebels.

His remarks also came as Labour sought to ferment a separate revolt next week by maximising backbench Tory support for a motion attacking cuts to the mortgage interest safety net for homeowners who lose their jobs.

Mr Hurd's line was much closer to that expressed earlier in the week by Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, and John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, who warned that the rebels were undermining Britain's influence and role in Europe.