Tories in new war on Europe

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The Independent Online
Conservative right-wingers have reopened the party's civil war over Europe, sending a fresh appeal to parliamentary candidates to oppose a single currency publicly.

A leaked letter from two senior backbenchers also claims that, after the next election, a majority of Tory MPs will be against EMU.

The letter, dated 11 November, is signed by John Townend, chairman of the right-wing 92 Group, and his predecessor, Sir George Gardiner. Both of the fiercely Eurosceptic MPs have been urging their colleagues and prospective candidates to commit themselves in their personal manifestos against EMU.

Their letter says that results of a private poll of sitting MPs fighting the next election, and responses to an earlier survey of candidates, "show that whatever the composition of the Parliamentary Party after the next election, a clear majority will be against a single currency".

Urging candidates who are not already committed against EMU to join them, Mr Townend and Sir George add: "Britain's future as a nation state will depend on us."

The two MPs say that "more than half" of the prospective Conservative candidates replied to an earlier survey and that "85 per cent said they did intend to make such a commitment in their personal election address".

Of those in winnable seats "no fewer than 93 per cent said they intended to make such a commitment".

The letter also highlights the tension between the right and Conservative central Office, which has sought to prevent MPs declaring their hands on EMU in personal election addresses.

"Central Office", the letter says, "did go to quite extraordinary lengths to try to persuade recipients of our letter not to respond at all. However, more than half of them did reply giving their honest views."

Privately the 92 Group, which has around 100 MP supporters, now believes a total of more than 200 MPs will back their stance after the election.

Pro-European Conservatives are, however, scornful of their claims, arguing that a sizeable proportion of the new parliamentary intake has declined to join the campaign against EMU.

They point out that some right-wing ex-ministers who are regarded as sceptics are reluctant to put their opposition to a single currency on record so baldly. But the leaked 92 Group letter, which marks the end of an unofficial Tory truce on the single currency, argues: "Obviously we hope that John Major will make the same commitment before the election gets underway, since we are certain that would be a vote-winner."

It adds that the fact that so many Tory MPs after the next election will oppose EMU "should in itself go a long way to persuading the electorate that a Conservative Cabinet can be trusted never to recommend that we should join".

That raises the prospect of renewed right-wing pressure on Mr Major in the run-up to the general election to rule out entry into a single currency in the first wave.

Mr Townend hinted that the 92 Group's campaign would be uncompromising. He said: "There comes a time when an issue is greater than any personal or party loyalty. On the question of Europe one has to put the independence of one's country above anything else."

Yesterday, Sir Teddy Taylor, the Eurosceptic former minister and MP for Southend East, raised the temperature further, arguing: "We should now request to get out of the EU altogether."

Sir Teddy, commenting on a Daily Telegraph Gallup poll indicating that one-third of the British public support calls for withdrawal from the EU, described the EU as an "economic suicide pact". He added: "There is no middle course. At the next Inter-Governmental Conference we should put in a simple request to get off this roller-coaster and quit the EU altogether."