Backbench Eurosceptics rounded on the Prime Minister, accusing him of treating them "with contempt" in his comments in a radio interview yesterday. They claimed that Mr Major had broken pledges given at their bruising meeting with him last week.
The latest row came amid signs that MPs may be given an unprecedented 15-week holiday by the Government, as part of a plan to prevent plotting in the run-up to November's leadership challenge deadline. With the Commons expected to rise on 20 July, Mr Major may try to avoid having the traditional "overspill" session in late October. That would mean MPs would stay away from Westminster until early or mid-November.
The Prime Minister may also have an autumn reshuffle which might help to head off a challenge by presenting his backbenchers with a new team.
Geoffrey Hoon, a Labour whip, said: "There are clear indications that they are trying to clear the decks for an early summer recess."
The avoidance of an overspill session would, however, be dependent on striking a deal with the House of Lords, which is expecting to deal with the Disability (Discrimination) Bill and possibly the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill in October.
Mr Major's problems flared up while he was at the Group of Seven summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme, he said that European policy had been spelled out: "We are at the heart of Europe; the future of the UK lies within the EU and not beyond it."
John Carlisle, hard-line Eurosceptic MP for Luton North, said: "I think this will only fuel the possibility of a leadership challenge."
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