European Elections: Tories 'split three ways on single currency': Hurd an agnostic on key issue

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The Independent Online
LABOUR yesterday claimed a fresh, three-way, Tory split on Europe after Douglas Hurd, one of the Cabinet's foremost pro-Europeans, pronounced himself an 'agnostic' on the single currency.

The admission came as the Conservatives brought in the Foreign Secretary to deliver a last-ditch appeal to Tory voters to turn out for today's European elections and the Eastleigh Westminster by- election. Speaking at the final by-election news conference, Mr Hurd said the Conservatives were 'waking up' in both elections to the fact that a vote for the Liberal Democrats in the South of England was a 'dangerous' vote.

It was the first time that the Liberal Democrat threat to the Tories in the region had been quite so graphically portrayed. But Labour seized on Mr Hurd's reply to a journalist's question that he was 'an agnostic' about the single currently. 'I don't know what the circumstances would be,' he said.

Mr Hurd said that five or six years was the likely timescale for a single currency, maybe longer. 'We say, let's take the decision if and when we have to do it . . . when it comes, it is for us to take the decision; for the British parliament.'

But, asked whether he believed a single currency would dilute national identity, Mr Hurd said: 'There will be arguments for and against - there will be political arguments against, there will be economic arguments for. What we cannot do now, in June 1994, is make a sensible balance between those arguments.'

On his third visit to the constituency, Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, said that for purely partisan purposes the Conservative Party had become increasingly 'isolationist' on economic and social co-operation in Europe.

'The Foreign Secretary used until today to be sympathetic to far greater European co-operation and now simply to hold his party together he calls himself agnostic on issues of vital national importance. That is something I thought I would never hear from the Foreign Secretary.'

Mr Brown said: 'We now have a three-way split in the Conservative Party. We have those who are in favour of a single currency, like the Chancellor (Kenneth Clarke) and the President of the Board of Trade (Michael Heseltine). We have those who are against it like Mr Portillo and Mr Lilley, who have barely been seen during the European election campaign. We now have a Foreign Secretary who says he is agnostic, in other words he doesn't know.

'It is the first time the 'don't knows' have put up candidates at a major election.'

Labour supported progress towards the single currency provided there was 'real' convergence of economic growth, employment and investment, Mr Brown said.

In his final message to the voters of Eastleigh at a rally last night, Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: 'Right across the south of England the Labour Party are now the Conservative Party's Trojan Horse - Mr Major's secret weapon as he desperately tries to hold on to Conservative seats.'