Clarke blamed for latest flare-up on single currency

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Indy Politics

Chief Political Correspondent

Critics of Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, said last night that Cabinet warfare over Europe will go on, in spite of a warning expected today by the Prime Minister to the Cabinet to end hostilities over the single currency.

Mr Clarke was blamed for provoking the latest outbreak of Cabinet civil war at a meeting between the 18-strong executive of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers and the Prime Minister.

Some of the Chancellor's supporters said that they expected Mr Major to tell members of the Cabinet to end their battles over Europe.

"It is expected that the Prime Minister will read the riot act. Ken has been getting it in the neck from some of his friends over this," said one minister.

Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the 1922 Committee, said members had urged the Prime Minister to call a halt to the Cabinet warfare at their meeting with Mr Major.

"I am saying to my backbenchers don't let's give the media this opportunity. If that applies to my backbenchers, it applies even more so to those who are in the Cabinet and other ministers," Sir Marcus said.

But one former minister who was at the meeting said the message from the backbench to call a halt to the Cabinet splits would go unheeded.

"Nothing is going to shut up Ken Clarke. And the Prime Minister is too weak to do it. He is running a collegiate Cabinet. Everyone thinks they are free to speak out, and it is too late to stop them now.

"I remember Thatcher once brought Jim Prior to heel by saying he was `very, very sorry'. That is what is needed now. It was like rubbing his nose in the dog dirt. But it won't happen. We'll be back here again next week."

The Chancellor's position was not in doubt, in spite of the criticism of his speech on the single currency to the European Movement last week.

It provoked the backlash from Michael Portillo, Secretary of State for Employment, and John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales - two leading Euro-sceptics in the Cabinet - which some said contributed to the fall in the pound.

The steadying in sterling yesterday took the pressure off Mr Clarke, but his most outspoken critics did not believe the Chancellor was at risk.

One critic said: "Major is too weak to get rid of him. The Government would be in a real crisis if that happened."