Mr Lilley - dubbed an 'invisible man' by Jack Straw, Labour's campaign manager - has been away since the Bank Holiday despite a Cabinet agreement that senior ministers would participate fully in the campaign.
The department could not say why he had chosen now to retreat to his weekend home. Last night it insisted he would campaign next week, but no details were forthcoming from Central Office.
There was speculation in Westminster that the exile of Mr Lilley, dubbed a 'bastard' in John Major's famous off-the-record conversation last summer, may be self-imposed. A Tory source suggested he did not want to embarrass the Government.
Among other Europhobes, John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, has been campaigning vigorously in Wales and appeared yesterday at the main Tory press conference in London. Michael Portillo, the Treasury Chief Secretary, will make his only press conference appearance tomorrow.
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