Most Tory MPs are Euro-sceptics - poll

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The Independent Online
CONSERVATIVE MPs oppose full monetary union and any further moves towards EU integration, according to an authoritative survey that reveals the extent of the party's Euro-scepticism.

The startlingly deep vein of hostility towards EU institutions uncovered by the survey underlines the task faced by the senior Tory heavyweights who yesterday embarked on a fight-back led by Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, to reverse the rightward tilt of this week's conference.

The survey of a politically balanced sample of more than a third of Tory MPs reveals that 69 per cent would oppose Britain's joining a single currency despite the economic consequences of remaining outside, and 56 per cent want a new 'Act of Supremacy' establishing the ultimate power of Westminster over European legislation.

The study by researchers from Sheffield and Nottingham Universities shows a significant minority of MPs are still strongly pro-European.

More than half supported proposals for a national referendum before Britain makes any move to enter a single currency. And more than 60 per cent believe the commission should lose its right to initiate legislation.

The findings on a single currency - which also show that just over 50 per cent of backbench MPs believe a single currency would mean 'the end of the UK as a sovereign nation' strongly imply that Mr Major, who gives his keynote speech today, could find it difficult to resist pressure for a referendum after the 1996 inter-governmental conference (IGC) on the EU.

The findings were shown to the Independent yesterday as Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, strongly reaffirmed the Tory aim of cutting taxes but refused to bow to right-wing pressure to commit himself to doing so before the general election.

Mr Clarke, who told the conference he would cut taxes as 'soon as I prudently can', said later that he would be a 'happier man' if he could cut taxes before the election, but added: 'I have no date circled in my calendar.'

The critique of the leading right-wingers was pursued still more fiercely at fringe meetings by two former Cabinet ministers, Sir Geoffrey Howe and Sir Leon Brittan. Sir Geoffrey said the risks of

shifting policy on Europe were especially clear and added: 'Establishing as much clear blue water as possible between ourselves and Labour is the Pavlovian response of a party on a suicide mission.'

And in a reference to Norman Lamont's speech raising the spectre of withdrawal from the EU, Sir Leon said: 'People have been indulging in fantasy. To dwell on Britain leaving the union is damaging and dangerous.'

However, the survey exposes what may prove to be a widening gulf between the majority of the Cabinet and the parliamentary Tory party.

The authors, David Baker, Imogen Fountain, Andrew Gamble and Steve Ludlam, conclude that the Prime Minister faces inevitable trouble in the party however he handles the IGC. If he compromises with moves towards further integration, he faces a rebellion 'at least as furious as that against Maastricht'. If he does not, Euro-enthusiasts could ally themselves with the Opposition in ways that could overwhelm his tiny majority .

Conference report, page 6

Leading article, page 17

Survey analysis, page 18

Andrew Marr, page 18