Tories' fears over Euro-sceptic stand

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The Independent Online
A group of pro-European Tory MPs led by Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor, are heading for a showdown with the party leadership over growing fears that William Hague is adopting an increasingly Euro-sceptic stance for the Opposition.

The group of Positive European Tory MPs are planning to meet Lord Parkinson, the Conservative Party chairman next Monday to warn against turning the Tories into a narrow Euro-sceptic party. They are supported by former ministers including Ian Taylor and David Curry, who both resigned from Mr Hague's front bench in protest at the hardening of policy against the European single currency.

Lord Parkinson is expected to offer them reassurances that they have a place in the party, but they are determined to put down a marker before the Tories begin selecting candidates for the European elections, which they fear will be dominated by Euro-sceptics. There are continued rumours at Westminster that former Euro-sceptic MPs Tony Marlow and Nicholas Budgen could be on the lists of candidates.

Their message has been reinforced by a letter to Lord Parkinson from Lord Howe which friends of the former Chancellor have described as "stinging". Their fears were increased by the departure of Peter Temple Morris, one of the veteran leaders of the group, after having the whip removed from him by the Tory leadership.

John Major, the former Prime Minister, yesterday made an attempt to urge Mr Temple Morris to rejoin the party at a Press Gallery Luncheon in the House of Commons. With the former Tory MP sitting in the audience, Mr Major said he would be welcome back in the party, if he chose to rejoin it.

Mr Temple Morris who has become an Independent sitting on the Labour benches made no move to do so and Mr Major's assurances were not backed up by party sources. "We withdrew the whip from him because he was openly talking about joining the Labour Party. We would want guarantees that would not happen again before readmitting him."

Mr Major said the Tory party had to be a right-of-centre party, but not exclusively right- wing. "We cannot win elections out on the right- wing. That is the way to becoming a minority party of no significance," Mr Major said.

One senior Tory MP said: "We have been keeping our heads down, but the real battle will be over the European elections. If we run a Euro- sceptic campaign, there will be more leaving the party."

l Mr Major said he was turning down financial offers to go into the City because he believed there had to be a longer "firebreak" between his term of office as Prime Minister and work outside Parliament than for other former ministers.