Portillo fuels Tory row over Europe

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MICHAEL PORTILLO, seen by the right wing as their best hope to replace John Major, yesterday deepened Tory party divisions over Europe by making it clear a single European currency was 'impossible', writes Colin Brown.

His remarks on independent television's GMTV appeared to go beyond government policy, in line with the Maastricht opt-out, of avoiding any immediate decision. He went further than the party's European elections manifesto, to be published within three weeks. Sir Norman Fowler, party chairman, said: 'It is not a decision for now. It is a decision for the future.'

Echoing leading Euro-sceptics, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said Britain would call for 'loose-ish' cooperation between member states, not for ever-closer political union, at the 1996 European Union inter-governmental conference. A single currency would lead to political union which 'would mean giving up the government of the UK . . . No British government can give up the government of the UK. That's impossible,' he said.

Mr Portillo's forthright opposition to a single currency - repudiating Sir Leon Brittan, Mr Major's choice as European Commission president - will enhance his support among Euro- sceptics. But it will increase the anger of the Prime Minister's close friends at the in-fighting over his successor. That surfaced yesterday when Gillian Shephard attacked Tory MPs for 'openly canvassing' at Westminster for the main Cabinet candidates.

'There are at least two Oppositions in the Commons - and one of them is Conservative,' the Minister of Agriculture said. 'In a quarter of a century . . . I have never known a time when the party in the country has been more impatient with the antics of the party in the Commons. People are in despair. They want the dissidents to shut up.'

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