Politics: Hague's Euro speech deepens divide with Tory moderates

THE ROW over William Hague's Fontainebleau speech caused even greater Conservative divisions yesterday, to the evident glee of Tony Blair, who told the Commons the Tory leader had aligned himself with the Eurosceptics.

With Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine protesting most strongly against their party leader's line, that the single currency could provoke the kind of violence associated with Bosnia or Indonesia, Mr Hague mustered quick support from Sir Teddy Taylor and Lord Tebbit.

Sir Teddy, MP for Rochford and Southend East, said: "I think the time has come when people have to say we support the party and support the leader or go elsewhere."

But there is no question of the Tory moderates leaving the party to the likes of Sir Teddy - or a Eurosceptic leader.

Having said last Monday night that Mr Hague's language was "more extreme than even Mrs Thatcher used", Mr Heseltine told yesterday's BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We have been flirting with Euroscepticism now for two to three years. If you are not getting the slightest encouragement in the early flirtation, the prospects of the affair ... sound pretty remote to me."

The former deputy prime minister added: "The party has got 28 points in the opinion polls and there is a huge raft of Conservatives out there that used to be Conservatives and aren't. They have to be got back and getting them back involves having policies that appeal to a wide spectrum of constituencies and the electorate."

Lord Tebbit said of Mr Heseltine and his allies: "They observe it will be impossible for the Conservatives to win the election without the support of the minority of Europhiles.

"But they ignore the fact that it would be impossible to win that election on a programme which offends the vast majority of Conservatives who believe we have already gone too far into European integration and that to enter monetary union would be the end to self-government."

Enjoying all the fruits of that Tory rift, Mr Blair appeared to take a quiet delight in the more extreme line being taken by Mr Hague - a line that would marginalise him in Europe, and at last weekend's Birmingham summit of leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised countries.

He told Sir Teddy that the truth of the Fontainebleau speech was that Mr Hague had joined the likes of John Redwood, the Tory trade and Industry spokesman, against Mr Clarke - "and I think that is an interesting decision".

Later, he told another Tory Eurosceptic, Bernard Jenkin: "It is bizarre to claim that European Monetary Union is not supported by the countries joining it. So far as this country is concerned, we have made it clear it will be subject to a referendum. It would be very foolish of Conservative MPs to get themselves into the position of hoping that monetary union fails."

The Prime Minister then added that on the issue as a whole, the Tories had been wrong "at every single juncture".

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