Tories demand pro-Europe drive

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(First Edition)

A POWERFUL group of Conservative MPs demanded yesterday a strongly pro-European campaign for next year's elections to the European Parliament.

As the battle began over the Tory manifesto for the election, Ian Taylor, MP for Esher and vice-chairman of the 90-strong Positive European Group of MPs, said: 'Any attempt to run a Euro-sceptic campaign would lead to a smaller number of Conservatives in the European Parliament.'

Mr Taylor pointed to the lack of success of the last Conservative campaign, which featured negative images ofEurope. The MPs' move, so soon after the party conference, indicates a rearguard action against ministerial speeches which included fierce anti-European rhetoric.

The initiative produced an instant reaction from Sir George Gardiner (Reigate), a leading Euro-sceptic:'Any campaign that does not reflect the reservations expressed by John Major in his Economist article is bound to fail.' The article, which stressed the limits of European co-operation, was welcomed by the right.

Pro-European MPs now say they intend to hold the Prime Minister to the spirit of a speech he made in April to the Conservative Group for Europe. In this he said he intended to keep Britain 'at the heart of Europe' and argued: 'Many who fear and oppose Europe are like the fat boy in Pickwick. They want to make your flesh creep. They think we are going to lose the argument in Europe. That is defeatist and wrong.'

The continuing divergence of views complicates the task of the committee of politicians and advisers now attempting to put together the Conservative manifesto. Key issues such as the Government's approach to a single currency are expected to be avoided in the manifesto. But its language could affect the tone of the campaign and may be used by Labour to exploit Tory divisions.