Clarke aide foils Euro-rebels' referendum Bill

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Indy Politics

Political Correspondent

An attempt in the Commons by Teresa Gorman and fellow Euro-rebels to secure an early referendum on Europe was demolished yesterday after the intervention of Kenneth Clarke's ministerial aide.

Backed by seven other Conservative rebels without the party whip, Mrs Gorman was seeking a Second Reading for her Referendum Bill, which would have put two options to a plebiscite by the end of this year.

Government opposition to the Bill was graphically underlined as the feisty Angela Knight, parliamentary private secretary to none other than the Chancellor - though more Euro-sceptical - rose just before 2.30pm to prepare to talk the measure out.

Mrs Gorman's attempt to foil that tactic with a closure motion was blocked when the motion was backed by 24 votes to two, insufficient under Commons procedural rules.

The Bill was fiercely opposed for the Government by Tony Baldry, a Foreign Office minister, who said the scheme in the Bill - ever deeper European integration versus membership of a free trade association - presented an "absurd choice", reducing to the ridiculous the debate on Britain's future role.

During the earlier debate, Mrs Gorman exploited her platform to the full, prompting Dennis Skinner, the Labour left-winger, to call for a splash apron to catch the blood.

After lambasting the Chancellor, for suggesting that a single currency would not lead to a federal Europe, she questioned John Major's wish for Britain to be at the heart of Europe. "What would happen if there was heart failure?" she demanded.

Turning to Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, she scorned what she called the "fear factor" that he and other Euro-enthusiasts used when they suggested Britain could not prosper outside the European Union. Ministers were "puppets", she declared. "They are no longer able to lay down what the British people want, or if they do put a view across, they can be overruled."

Mr Skinner, the MP for Bolsover and an avowed Labour Euro-sceptic, challenged Mrs Gorman to declare how she would vote on Wednesday's Labour motion on Europe.

She replied that the Labour Party was as divided on the issue as her own party. "For them to have the brass neck to table a motion criticising the Government's attitude to Europe really is an awful cheek. You are not going to trap myself and my colleagues into that."

Elsewhere, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, was seeking to lower the temperature in a party speech in Somerset. "Let the debate for the moment be led by those qualified to comment on the effect of a single currency on jobs and growth... Let us hear from people like the Governor of the Bank of England," he said.

Spelling out key factors on which the result of the next election would depend he emphasised that "if we lose the principle of service in public and private lives, then the Conservative Party loses its own purpose. You do not need a political party to tell people to make themselves rich".