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The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

Ministers angrily condemned Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, after he voted with Labour.

One key minister said: "It's very sad - a clever man who had a lot to be proud of, who actually helped to secure the opt-out (on a European single currency). It is tragic. The acid of self-destruction is flowing through his veins." Another, clearly furious, senior minister said: "He is a spotty little runt."

Ministers said it was unlikely that Mr Lamont would lose the whip over his rebellion, but the former Chancellor appeared to have cast himself as a pariah among Major loyalists.

Mr Lamont voted against the Government in protest at the Prime Minister's failure to give a satisfactory answer to his challenge over whether European monetary union would lead to political union.

Glowering at Douglas Hurd during the wind-up to the debate, Mr Lamont again challenged the Foreign Secretary to give a straight answer. But Mr Hurd ridiculed him, pointing out that Mr Lamont had been involved in the negotiations on the single currency on which he was rebelling.

Mr Lamont's dissatisfaction has been brewing for weeks. His resentment at being sacked by Mr Major - whom he had helped to win the leadership race - had led to his criticism of the Prime Minister in his resignation speech, as a leader in office but not in power.

He has also been highly critical of the threat to the Union posed by the Framework Document on the future of Ulster.

He has refused to rule out a challenge to Mr Major for the leadership this autumn. However, his rebellion last night may have blown his chances of getting the 32 votes necessary to do so.