Blair exploits Tory divide on EU

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Tony Blair has deepened Tory splits over Europe with a stark warning that William Hague's hardline policy would wreck the British economy.

Tony Blair has deepened Tory splits over Europe with a stark warning that William Hague's hardline policy would wreck the British economy.

Writing in The Independent, today, the Prime Minister pours scorn on the Tory leader's plans to renegotiate the Treaty of Rome, claiming the move is code for withdrawal from the European Union.

The attack follows a Downing Street meeting yesterday between Mr Blair, Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke in preparation for the launch today of Britain in Europe, a historic cross-party campaign for the UK's eventual membership of the single currency.

Mr Blair's intervention is designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the embattled Tory leader, who faced a backlash from John Major, Chris Patten and Douglas Hurd as they lined up yesterday to condemn his "absurd" Euroscepticism.

The Tories' civil war reached new depths of bitterness last night as Mr Hague declared that his opponents could "shout and scream all they liked" but he would not flinch from his party's policy.

Lord Tebbit poured oil on the flames with a savage attack on Mr Patten, the UK's newest European commissioner, describing him as a "servant of Brussels, from where he squeaks for the European Union and Blair, rather than speaks for Britain".

Flanked by Mr Clarke and Mr Heseltine, the Prime Minister will today warn that Mr Hague's hardline policy, outlined at last week's Tory party conference, could result in withdrawal from the EU and amounted to "an act of economic mutilation".

Senior Tories are furious that their former chancellor and deputy prime minister met Mr Blair and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, yesterday to agree a common approach at today's launch of Britain in Europe, the "yes" campaign for the euro referendum expected after the next general election.

"Clarke and Hezza are showing their true colours. It is clear that Alastair Campbell [Mr Blair's press secretary] is writing the script," said one member of the Shadow Cabinet.

Setting out the campaign's goals in today's article, Mr Blair and Mr Brown exploit the Tory civil war over Mr Hague's controversial plan to renegotiate the EU's governing treaties so that all member states could opt out of new laws from Brussels. They say the Opposition's hard line makes the Britain in Europe campaign even more important. Pulling out of Europe would put almost 3.5 million jobs at risk, they warn.

The rare joint article by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor is a clear attempt to kill speculation about differences between them over the euro, following reports that Mr Brown is more sceptical about early entry than Mr Blair.

Michael Ancram, the Tory chairman, played down talk of a party rift. "This is not about getting out of Europe, it is about getting what we need in Europe," he said.