Redwood referendum bid rejected by Rifkind

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The Independent Online
Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday threw out a referendum deal being brokered by John Redwood and Sir James Goldsmith to make Goldsmith to withdraw his threat to put up independent candidates against Tories at the general election.

The uncompromising rejection by Mr Rifkind at the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Aberdeen makes it highly unlikely that Mr Redwood will be able to reach any deal between the Government and Sir James, the leader of the Referendum Party. It increases the threat that Euro-sceptic candidates could be put up against Conservatives, helping Labour in key Tory marginals.

Its rejection will disappoint Tory Euro-sceptic MPs, who support the call for a fresh referendum on Europe. Bill Cash, the leading Euro-sceptic campaigner, will force a vote in June in the Commons on a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. Mr Redwood proposed a compromise referendum, on whether Britain should be part of a looser single market, or a European superstate.

Mr Rifkind said: "I don't believe there is any possibility of the Government considering further referendums on European issues. The single currency was a specific question."

Mr Rifkind was speaking after steering a careful line over the European ban on British beef which showed a clear difference of approach to Europe between Michael Heseltine and the Euro-sceptic Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth.

The Foreign Secretary sidestepped questions about Mr Forsyth's view, that the ban was part of a cynical exercise to destroy competition by Britain. He told the conference that the recommendation of EU vets for the partial lifting of the ban on some beef products was a 'step in the right direction'.

"We look to our European partners to accept that recommendation," he said. "I have to say to our European partners that the strategy pursued by them has not worked in that they hoped that by banning British beef their own industry would be OK."