Tories hit back at Euro rebels

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Tory pro-Europeans sought to stem an apparently relentless tide of Euro scepticism yesterday with a statement strongly attacking the party's Euro rebels, while reproving ministers for dragging their feet over selling the benefits of EU membership to the public.

"Any attempt to follow the approach advocated by the un-whipped Conservative `rebels' would certainly alienate all our potential allies and could risk precipitating our departure from the Union, with the serious economic and other consequences that wouldfollow," the declaration from the 90-strong Positive European Group said.

In contrast to the high-profile approach taken last month when eight of the nine rebels outside the party fold launched an alternative Euro-manifesto, the group launched its document without fanfare. But it quickly collected 52 signatories, including those of ministerial aides.

The paper, stronger than expected, will do little for the party unity that constantly eludes the Prime Minister. But the pro-Europeans believe they cannot go on "sitting on our hands" in the run-up to next year's summit on revising the Maastricht treaty.

The paper implicitly calls on the Cabinet to retake the initiative from die-hard Euro-critics, saying that ministers must be "much more willing to remind the electorate of the advantage to Britain of Union membership and counter the relentlessly negativeattitudes, often based on misrepresentations, of the media and the Euro-sceptics".

The group likewise makes clear its opposition to any more positioning statements from the Prime Minister over the topic of monetary union.

Mr Major said last month that he would be against Britain joining a single European currency in 19996-97.

The statement says: "Given Britain's position as a major trading nation and financial centre, it would be folly to rule out our membership of a single currency grouping at some time in the future..."