Portillo sticks to his guns over conference tirade

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Michael Portillo, Secretary of State for Defence, yesterday defiantly refused to tone down his attacks on Brussels, in spite of growing unrest by left-wing Tory MPs and fresh criticism by Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission.

The Positive European group of Tory MPs led by Hugh Dykes will meet Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, tomorrow in an attempt to persuade the Government to repair the damage done by Mr Portillo at last week's Tory party conference.

The Macleod Group of Tory MPs are also concerned at the right-wing agenda set out by Mr Portillo and other Cabinet colleagues to the conference, and may seek a meeting with John Major. Its leader, Peter Temple-Morris, said: "It's now a matter for the Prime Minister. He appeared to applaud Mr Portillo's speech, but he has to set the tone."

Mr Portillo made it clear yesterday that he would not be silenced by pressure from within the party. "I don't regret any of the language I have used ... I stripped away all the waffle and I said very plainly a Conservative government is not going to be drawn into a European superstate where very important decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers or by the Commission," he said on BBC Television.

Mr Santer appearing simultaneously on LWT, stood by his condemnation of the speech as "grotesque". He denied there were plans to create a United States of Europe, but added: "Britain is at [the] heart of Europe. It has to give us something from its own identity. I think Britain has to give an input, a strong input in the EU and I hope that in the inter-governmental conference we would overcome all the difficulties and we can reach some compromises." Defence chiefs were also privately appalled by Mr Portillo's use of the SAS in his speech to emphasise his Euro-sceptic convictions. Despite the conference rhetoric, the Government plans to go along with the European Court of Human Rights judgment against the SAS by paying the pounds 38,000 costs for the families of the three IRA terrorists killed in Gibraltar.