Tory 'Europhobe' MPs and the 'Europhiles' have declared a ceasefire and are ready to unite behind the Conservative manifesto now being put through a final drafting stage for the European elections on 9 June. Like Mr Major yesterday, they insisted they were now all 'Euro-realists'.
Douglas Hurd and Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, met a group of 40 MPs last week, including the Europhobes' Bill Cash and Europhiles' Hugh Dykes in secret. News of this had not leaked out until it was reported yesterday in the Independent. They urged both sides not to 'pick at the sores' of Maastricht, and to unite for the campaign.
The anti-EU Tory MPs are dormant because they believe the manifesto will be seen as highly Euro-sceptic in spite of the efforts by the Foreign Secretary to tone down its stridency.
They were told the Tory manifesto will attack the socialism of Jacques Delors, the EC president, and oppose Euro-federalism.
Sir Norman said the Conservative campaign will attack Labour's view of Europe but will be positive on Tory action on Europe; it will attack Euro-socialists, not the EU institutions. 'It will mean all things to all men,' one leading pro-European Tory MP said.
But the Euro-sceptics in the Tory party believe they are in the ascendency since the battles over Maastricht, when a group of 20 trouble-makers was dismissed as the 'bastards'.
One source close to Mr Hurd confirmed the relative importance of the factions. 'The Europhiles don't have razor blades in their collars. The Sceptics do. Major knows they can hurt him, but the Europhiles can't. They're toothless,' he said.
The sceptics believe they are now in the centre of the party, so great has been the gravitational shift in opinion on the backbench. One Tory backbench tactician said that they were ready to mobilise more than 100 'serious, senior Tories who so far had not put their heads above the parapet' to support their agenda.
The pressure on Mr Major to adopt a more aggressively Euro- sceptic approach has extended into the Cabinet.
The European elections are likely to be disastrous for the Conservatives, putting Mr Major's leadership in crisis. Some right- wing Tory MPs are convinced Mr Major will go before the end of the year and are mobilising behind Michael Portillo.
But some of his key Cabinet colleagues are seeking to pin Mr Major to a Euro-sceptic ticket to underpin his leadership, to stop Kenneth Clarke or Michael Heseltine replacing him.
Looking beyond the wreckage of the European elections they want Mr Major to reassert his leadership with a commitment to a Euro-sceptic approach to the 1996 inter-governmental summit. That, they argue, would be popular with the bulk of the party and give the Tories a distinctive appeal beyond Labour and the Liberal Democrats.Reuse content