Tory rift on Europe set to widen

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The Independent Online
Urgent Cabinet efforts to reunite a battered Conservative Party were coming under immediate strain last night with strong signs that the party's right wing had no intention of moderating its pressure on John Major to toughen his line on Europe.

Leading sceptic John Redwood prepared to launch a populist "manifesto" this week, and John Townend, the chairman of the Thatcherite 92 Group, and one of Mr Redwood's most prominent supporters in last year's leadership challenge, repeated his calls for tough retaliatory measures against the European Union on beef.

As Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, warned that it would be "lunacy" for divisive behaviour by Conservative Euro-sceptics to put Labour's Tony Blair into power, Sir Marcus Fox, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, appeared to join the fray by complaining that some Conservative MPs "were so pro-European it's unbelievable".

Mr Heseltine said: "What are Conservatives trying to achieve in giving the appearance of disunity within the Conservative Party?

"I know what they're likely to achieve, and that is to open the door to No 10 Downing Street to Tony Blair."

Mr Heseltine was leadingcalls for unity by a heavyweight team of Cabinet ministers that included Brian Mawhinney, the party chairman, and Ian Lang, the President of the Board of Trade, by pointedly repeating his earlier warning that rebellious Euro-scepticism would simply deliver a Labour victory - and with it a more emollient line on Europe.

Sir Marcus, apparently casting himself as a candid friend to the Prime Minister, publicly advised Mr Major to "elevate" national Euro-scepticism and "bludgeon" Brussels over the worldwide ban on British beef.

"Whatever he can do there to bring the EU to its senses, the more thanks he will get and votes," said Sir Marcus during an interview on Sky televison's Sunday Programme.

Although broadly right wing in tone, Mr Redwood's proposals for policy shifts that would maximise support for the Conservatives in the run-up to the election will also contain a call to underpin clinical care in the NHS and halt bed closures.

A 30,000-word document, called Action Not Words, will give substance to the policies that Mr Redwood is urging the Prime Minister to adopt, on the health service, taxation and Europe. "It is not lurching to the right but getting it right," the paper says.