The heavyweight trio of the former Tory Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, the European Commissioner and former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, and Lord Jenkins, the Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords, yesterday joined forces to promote a cross-party alliance in support of a pro-European campaign, including the single currency.
The three were made vice-presidents of the European Movement, a cross- party grouping which includes backbench MPs from the three main parties and is dedicated to promoting Britain's interests in Europe.
Mr Clarke made a rallying call to other pro-Europeans across Britain to join the campaign. It came as he told a London conference of pro- European Tory MPs that the Conservative Party should not lurch towards "more fundamentalist" policies in a bid to distinguish itself from Labour.
He said the Government had made a series of mistakes on economic policy and said the Tories needed to re-establish themselves as the party of market economics.
Leaders of Conservative Mainstream strongly denied their conference was the beginning of a "party within a party" to challenge the more Euro-sceptic leadership of William Hague.
There were also concerted efforts to damp down speculation of a break- away and a rebellion next week by pro-Tory Europeans when the party leadership has insisted on a three-line whip to vote against the Government on the Amsterdam treaty.
The Positive European group, led by Peter Temple-Morris, the Tory MP who nearly defected to Labour, have decided as a group to back Mr Hague in voting against the Government, although some Conservative MPs may still abstain.
That could avoid a confrontation with the Tory leadership, and talk of Tory MPs losing the whip for refusing to vote with Mr Hague was being dismissed last night at Westminster.
However, the determination of the group to challenge the leadership line on Europe was reaffirmed by Lord Howe, another former Chancellor. He attacked Mr Hague's rejection of the single currency for 10 years as a "purpose- free piece of ideological posturing" which was neither in Britain's national interest nor in the interests of the Conservative Party.Reuse content