Pro-Europe Tories turn on PM

John Major's quest for party unity around a hard-line stance on Europe lay in tatters as senior pro-European Tories lined up to attack him for appeasing his Eurosceptics.

The most stinging rebuke came from Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, who, in a newspaper article today, says: "In the search for party unity at any price, UK foreign policy is being dragged into a ghetto of sentimentality and self-delusion."

MPs in the 90-strong Positive European Group of pro-EU backbenchers are poised for a fight-back with a positioning statement, to be launched possibly this week. The move will be a direct challenge to the alternative manifesto published - amid media fanfare - by eight of the nine backbench Euro-rebels without the party whip.

It also became clear that that pro-Europe members of the Cabinet are not prepared to give up without a battle and are determined that the party should not fight the next election on a Eurosceptic platform.

Nor is the pro-European lobby willing to ease its position on monetary union. Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, would not want to go into the next election having definitively ruled out a single European currency, even though he believes circumstances are not yet right.

Michael Portillo and the major pro-European ministers appear to see eye-to-eye on one thing, though - they are opposed to a referendum. Both camps believe such a move would be counter-productive, divisive and unlikely to address the issue effectively.

Lord Howe's remarks came after Michael Portillo, the Euro-sceptical Secretary of State for Employment, disclosed at the World Economic Forum of businessmen in Davos, Switzerland, that the Cabinet had universally endorsed at a meeting last week a decisionto use Britain's veto to stop further European integration in three areas.

These are the loss of the veto itself, changes to majority voting rights and halting increases in the powers of the European Parliament.

Lord Howe declares in the Financial Times article: "At the end of this sorry saga, we have a government that threatens to veto any future treaty involving serious institutional change, even when this is essential for the wider EU it claims to favour."

A Harris Research poll for BBC TV's On the Record yesterday suggested that fewer than one in three Britons favour a single currency.

Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, said on Radio Four's The World This Weekend that a single currency would lead to full political union because all the economic powers governments currently have would go. The Prime Minister was "entirely right to gradually move his position as he has", Mr Lamont emphasised.

Lining up against the shift toward Euroscepticism were Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister, Sir Peter Hordern, chairman of the Tory backbench European affairs committee, and Tim Renton, the former Chief Whip.

Sir Edward delivered a stark warning to the Prime Minister to stop publicising a negative negotiating strategy or risk attacks from his enemies when he could not deliver what they wanted.

Sir Teddy Taylor, one of the unwhipped nine, retorted: "The tragedy in the past has been that negotiations have proceeded in secrecy and our party has been presented with a fait accompli."

As Sir Edward weighed in against a whispering campaign to try to "do in" Douglas Hurd, Mr Portillo declared his loyalty to the Foreign Secretary. But he urged the nine whipless rebels to "look at what we've been saying this year".

Mr Renton said: "Michael Portillo is at times rather like a member of the Flat Earth Society. He and others often talk if we were the boss of the European Union, almost the only powerful country in it. We're not."

Ray Whitney, chairman of the Positive Europeans, but a right-winger none the less, said: "We have spent two years deliberately seeking to keep the temperature down. But a small minority is going to go on making trouble."

Hans van den Broek, the EC external affairs commissioner, and Jean Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister whom Mr Major blocked as Commission president, said an increase of the use of Britain's veto would be unacceptable.

Leading article, page 14

Bruce Anderson, page 15

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - Legal Department

£19000 - £19665 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking to join an awar...

Recruitment Genius: IT Infrastructure Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking to find a...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Manager / Technical Executive

£25000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity exists ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss