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Lib Dem Conference: Currency divisions weaken EU drive

DIVISIONS OVER the single currency within the Liberal Democrats yesterday dented the party's enthusiasm to drive Britain into the European Union.

A number of delegates complained about the low-profile campaign for the Euro elections in June, stressing that only three in 100 people voted for the Liberal Democrats. Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the former legal adviser to Paddy Ashdown, led the attack, accusing the party leadership of being in "cloud-cuckoo-land" on the issue. Pointing to the Euro-elections, he said: "That to me says only one thing, that the leadership on Europe has become self-delusionary. No one is following us."

Stressing that he was a pro-European and an internationalist, Lord Phillips warned that a continued unconditional support for the single currency would cost votes at the next election.

"If we carry out this path we stand in mortal danger of reviving nationalism, even fascism," he said. The outspoken attack by Lord Phillips is bound to embarrass the party leader, Charles Kennedy, who stressed his strong pro-European outlook at a "Britain in Europe" fringe meeting earlier this week.

But privately some party members are worried that they could damage their chances against the Tories in marginal seats in the south west of England by failing to address concern about Britain's entry into the single currency.