Hurd sends first signal of quitting Government

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The Independent Online
Douglas Hurd yesterday signalled for the first time his departure from the Government with the prospect of a wide-ranging Cabinet reshuffle next summer.

The Foreign Secretary has been one of the stabilising influences behind John Major in the battles with Euro-sceptic Tory MPs, but he refused to rule out resigning from the Cabinet before the election. "What I do see are things that I want to do in 1995 and if the Prime Minister wants me to do them I will go on doing them," he said.

Now aged 66 and with a relatively young family, Mr Hurd has let it be known he is ready to hand over the task of negotiating for Britain at the 1996 Intergovernmental conference. Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, is among the front-runnersto replace him.

Mr Rifkind would follow the Hurd diplomatic lead on Europe, and match his staunch support for Mr Major. He is also an Atlanticist, but would develop further the moves towards a common defence and foreign policy in Europe under the Western European Union.

One of the architects of the Maastricht treaty, Mr Hurd has enemies on the Thatcherite right of the party over his diplomacy. But as a consensus politician, Mr Hurd has been a key player in developing the compromise option of a referendum, which Mr Majoris expected to use in the New Year to pacify the Euro-sceptic troublemakers.

His retirement from the Cabinet would mark the end of a chapter for the Tory party. He is one of the last high-ranking ministers to have been educated at Eton; he is also the son of a peer - a privileged background which he sought to play down during theleadership campaign against Mr Major.

He married his second wife, Judy, his secretary, in 1982 and they have two children. He would like to bequeath to his successor peace in Bosnia, and peace in his party over Europe.

But he appears ready to settle for the more attainable job of giving Britain a boost with a conference in 1995 to celebrate British achievements for the 75th anniversary of Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs.

Mr Hurd said that divisions in the Tory party had weakened Britain "in the sense we have a lot of bickering at home. The European argument has been more bickering than argument.

"But working as I do with people overseas and looking at Britain through their eyes, I see a very much stronger country than most people would suppose. If we can get back some self-confidence as a country, identifying and using assets which we have, thenwe will find this atmosphere changes quite quickly. I want to be part of that process in 1995.''

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