Sceptics are triumphant as the tide turns against Brussels

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The Independent Online
Euro-sceptics paraded at conference fringe meetings yesterday in a mood of barely concealed triumph at the way they believe John Major and the Cabinet are marching to the beat of the sceptic drum.

The Conservative Party had put its divisions over Europe behind it, Norman Lamont, the former chancellor, said: "We are all Euro-sceptics now."

Along with Lord Tebbit, he welcomed the Prime Minister's assurance that if Europe moved towards federalism a Tory Britain would not go with it. "I don't think there is any doubt that the Conservative Party has shifted decisively in the Euro-sceptic direction," Mr Lamont said.

Sir Teddy Taylor, MP for Southend East and one of the original sceptic voices, said the Government was changing its stance in the right direction - "towards public opinion".

However, there were warnings about the pressure the Government would face from other European Union states at next year's inter-governmental conference over monetary union and common foreign and defence policies.

Mr Lamont urged ministers to resist the temptation to "cobble together" some form of words to cover Britain's position. "We have found to our cost that ambiguity is fatal. It would mean one thing to the House of Commons and another to European institutions."

Lord Tebbit put the Government's shift down to events in the EU as much as to the arguments of the Euro-sceptics. "The Euro-fanatics who are running Europe are making such a mess of it."

The strident calls of last year for a pledge not to join a single currency were replaced by a degree of relish at the difficulties confronting the project.

John Redwood, the defeated Tory leadership challenger, said even the German people were terrified of the "monetary monster" and were buying Swiss francs. France, already suffering 12 per cent unemployment, was being asked to suffer more in the name of convergence.

"The wags in the foreign exchange markets are right again. The best name for the new currency is the dodo," he said.

John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, was one of the few pro-European voices on the fringe. The strongest was that of Andrew Rowe, the old "wet" MP for Mid Kent. He said the EU needed to be greatly overhauled after 40 years, but added: "I am not scared of pooling our sovereignty in order to make us part of a very successful viable future."

Addressing a meeting organised by Conservative Youth Against a Federal Europe, Sir Teddy accepted Alan Howarth's view that there were around 40 Tory MPs who would be happier in the Labour Party.

"In the same way, there are probably Labour MPs who would be happier on our side, because they are worried about giving up our democracy to the EU. We need to shake up the party system, because the parties are not reflecting the divides in our society."