As Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary, works towards a diplomatic solution at a meeting of European foreign ministers on Tuesday, hardliners warned that any compromise would make the Government look like the 'grand old Duke of York'.
One influential Maastricht rebel warned: 'There is no one in the parliamentary party that thinks that John Major has a donkey's chance in the Grand National of winning the next general election, so if this were to be a fiasco it would only be a matter of time for him'.
One concession which would be unacceptable to Eurosceptics both in the Cabinet and in the party is a two month delay on European Union law if the current 23 votes are deployed.
Backbench sceptics said yesterday that they would also fight another compromise under which the changes would go ahead but a declaration would state that three nations would be able to block proposed legislation. This, they believe, would ultimately be eroded.
A poll of backbenchers in today's Sunday Times shows a three-to-one majority among Tory MPs against a change for the worse in the present system. They were asked whether the Government should allow any increase in the blocking minority after enlargement. Forty-eight said 'no', 17 'yes' and five registered 'don't know'.
Eurosceptics are suspicious that Mr Hurd may have to retreat from the existing position. Under this, 23 votes is enough to stop legislation.
President of the Board of Trade Michael Heseltine said yesterday there was merely a 'debate' going on.
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