The breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party is to disband and join the Liberal Democrats in the hope that they will overtake the Tories and become Britain's second party.
The Pro-Euro Conservatives had tried to break the mould of British politics by persuading sympathetic grandees such as Kenneth Clarke, Lord Heseltine and Chris Patten to desert the Tories.
Opinion polls suggested that a breakaway pro-EU party could win 10 per cent of the votes at a general election. But the new party won less than 2 per cent of the votes in the 1999 European Parliament elections after prominent Tory Europhiles refused to back it.
The party says it has 500 supporters and a mailing list of 3,500 people, all of whom will be urged to switch to the Liberal Democrats. About 20 former Tory members of the European Parliament, ex-Tory councillors and local activists will join the Liberal Democrats tonight.
John Stevens, a former Tory MEP who launched the party almost three years ago, said: "There really is a chance now for the Liberal Democrats to become the second party. That is what we intend to achieve."
Writing in The Independent today, Mr Stevens describes the Tories under Iain Duncan Smith as "grotesque" and says that "a cancer of extremism and xenophobia" has infected the body of the Conservative Party.
Firing a parting shot at pro-EU grandees, he says his party has "heard too many broken promises and lame excuses" from them. Allies of Mr Clarke and Mr Patten are thought to have expressed interest in a formal split in the Tories' ranks.
Meanwhile Mr Duncan Smith faced new allegations of "lurching to the right" after he called for an end to the Tories' existing relationship with EU centre-right groupings.
In a letter seen by The Independent, Mr Duncan Smith calls for the 36 Tory MEPs to be able to promote different policies from most of the rest of the centre-right bloc in the European Parliament, to have their own structures and access to their own finance.
The plan has infuriated leaders of the European People's Party-European Democrats, which gave the Conservatives freedom to differ from the party line two years ago.Reuse content