Tory left stands up for Europe

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The Independent Online
Pro-European Conservative MPs are to renew their battle against Eurosceptic colleagues by publicly declaring their support for the European single currency.

Up to 20 backbench MPs plan to proclaim their backing in principle for monetary union in their election addresses - mirroring the tactics of the Eurosceptics who oppose the Euro.

The move comes amid mounting frustration on the left of the party. Last week the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, indicated he was prepared to blow apart the Cabinet Euro-truce had he not won a retraction of negative comments about monetary union made by the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind.

Mr Clarke let it be known that if the comments went uncorrected he would intervene to stress the potential gains of a single currency. At the height of last week's furore, pro-European MPs circulated a letter supporting Mr Clarke which was intended to be published in a national newspaper but which was withdrawn at the last minute.

Peter Temple-Morris, a stalwart of the centrist Mainstream grouping, is one of those who will be making his pro-European stance clear in his election. He said: "As far as my election address is concerned, my views on Europe are well-known and I will be repeating them. While agreeing with the policy I will commit myself to a single currency in principle, subject to the viability of the currency and Britain's interests."

Others expected to back the Euro include Quentin Davies, a prominent centre-left backbencher. Ian Taylor, the junior trade minister, is likely to stick to government policy but to stress that keeping the country's options open must mean that entry into EMU is as likely as staying out.

As well as the 20 backbench supporters, a further 30 MPs, including some ministers, will stick within the Government's "wait and see" policy on EMU but stress the potential gains to Britain of a single currency.

The tactics are likely to rekindle the civil war in the Conservative Party and provoke another reaction from the sceptics. Some pro-Europeans fear that it may leave them dangerously exposed. But the political temperature was raised last week by Mr Rifkind's controversial radio interview in which he said that the Government is "on balance hostile" to a single currency. One pro-European source said: "I think the Chancellor was very upset. He was genuinely furious about off-the-cuff remarks which appeared to be making policy. He was also upset that Downing Street was not quicker about clearing up this business".

Another said that, had the Prime Minister not endorsed the Chancellor's position at Prime Minister's Questions on Thursday, Mr Clarke would have had no option but to resign. The Chancellor, he said, "is being put in an impossible position. They are pushing and pushing and they shouldn't risk it any further". Although few doubt Mr Clarke's readiness to quit if necessary, it seems unlikely that he made such a threat explicit during the events of last week.

However, through his advisers, Mr Clarke made it clear to Mr Rifkind, that unless he stepped back from his comments, the Chancellor would regard the Cabinet "truce" on monetary union to be broken. That would free Mr Clarke to put a more pro-EMU case in public. In the event Mr Rifkind backed down at a late-night meeting on Wednesday in which the two Cabinet ministers issued a joint statement arguing that they were hostile only to a "fudged" single currency.