Hurd offers hope of Europe referendum

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Douglas Hurd hinted yesterday that a referendum may eventually be the way to resolve the Conservatives' differences over Europe.

The Foreign Secretary's comment came as the pressure not to bring down the Government appeared to be enough to make Tory rebels vote for the European Finance Bill on Monday.

But tension remained over the Government's tactic of threatening the rebels with a general election if the vote was lost. John Redwood, the Secretary of State for Wales, joined other Cabinet ministers yesterday in declaring that the Government was united behind the decision and would win.

Pressure on the rebels mounted as Teresa Gorman, the MP for Billericay, complained that her constituency chairman had been ordered to de-select her if she did not support the Government. He had been told that ``if the association refuses to do so, they will disband the association and put in an alternative candidate for the next election''. Conservative Central Office said that the initiative had come from Mrs Gorman's area chairman, and not party headquarters.

Mr Hurd said he believed the Bill would go through. But he then appeared to offer the rebels some hope by saying that, although the Government was ``temprementally opposed'' to referendums, ``it will be for the Parliament of the day to decide whether or not there are referendums and if so on what subject.''

Bill Cash, the Tory MP whose amendment to the European Finance Bill had by yesterday attracted 18 names, said Mr Hurd's ``suggestion of a hint towards a referendum is completely different language from the language over Maastricht, when we were told there was no question of it. It looks as if the door may be opening.''

The sense of government disarray was not eased by Jeremy Hanley, the Conservative Party chairman, declaring John Major to be ``unassailable''. The word ``unassailable'' has been banned from politicians' dictionaries since Margaret Thatcher used it of Nigel Lawson at the time of his resignation as Chancellor in 1989.

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