New referendum call fans flames of Tory civil war

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Labour last night threatened to force John Major into an embarrassing vote over the Common Agricultural Policy, widening the split with Euro- sceptic Tory MPs angry at the ban on British beef exports.

Labour said it would force the vote in the clear hope of defeating the Government with the backing of the Ulster Unionists and Euro-sceptics.

But ministers could shrug off the defeat without resorting to a vote of confidence which could bring down the Government. It came as Tory Euro- sceptics confirmed that they would seek a second vote on a referendum to pull Britain out of the European Union - a demand condemned as "lunatic" by pro-Euro Tory MPs as the civil war erupted again in the Conservative Party.

John Redwood, the former Secretary of State for Wales, disclosed yesterday that he was seeking to broker a deal between the Government and Sir James Goldsmith, the international financier, over a referendum. In an attempt to end the threat to Tory seats at the general election by the Referendum Party, Mr Redwood said he would discuss with Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, his plans for a referendum on Europe to be held on the same day as the general election.

Mr Redwood's pressure for a referendum came as Tory divisions over Europe were exposed again, with Edwina Currie, the pro-Euro Tory MP, attacking demands by Teresa Gorman and Euro-sceptic colleagues as "completely lunatic".

David Howell, leader of the One Nation group of Tory MPs, warned colleagues that they had "lost the power of argument and found only the power of abuse". Mr Howell condemned as "deplorable" Euro-sceptics who were "calling themselves Conservatives but unable to conduct themselves as such".

John Prescott, the Labour deputy leader, said: "John Major is trying to control the uncontrollable. It is difficult not to feel sorry for him. Attacked from left and right, ignored by everyone. So much for his weekend calls for unity. One word from John Major and civil war breaks out all over again."

The beef crisis has intensified Tory criticism of the CAP, leading to calls by the eight former whipless rebels for Britain to withdraw from the CAP.

The Euro-sceptic Tory MPs led by Sir Teddy Taylor stepped up their own campaign for a referendum on the European Union at a press conference at Westminster. But Mrs Curriesaid: "They are following the leadership of Sir James Goldsmith who is not a member of the Conservative Party and does not live in this country rather than the leadership of the Prime Minister."

Mr Redwood, who published his own manifesto yesterday, said a referendum would increase Tory support and could avert the threat of a challenge to Tory candidates by Sir James's Referendum Party.

n The Scots will fly the European Union flag today to cock a snook at Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland, who will be attending the Scottish Tory party conference in Aberdeen, Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat MP, said last night. Mr Forsyth had banned the Euro-flag from public buildings to celebrate European Day today.

Poll shows 64% are against the Euro

Sixty-four per cent of voters oppose a single European currency, according to an ICM poll for today's Guardian which also shows Labour's lead has slipped five points in the past month.

Only 29 per cent support Britain joining a single currency, which could be launched in 1999. Supporters of all three main parties are divided on the issue, with Labour voters least opposed, by 57 to 36 per cent.

In interviews last weekend, Labour was down 5 at 45 per cent on ICM's adjusted figures, the Tories were down 1 at 28 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats up 4 on 21 per cent.

The unadjusted figures, with similar changes, were Labour 50, Tories 26, Lib Dems 20 per cent.