Kenneth Clarke has accused Iain Duncan Smith, his Tory leadership rival, of harbouring a secret agenda to take Britain out of the European Union.
The former Chancellor's fiercely worded attack on his opponent marked a bitter end to the holiday truce between the two men. In a scathing interview with The Times, he claimed the shadow Defence Secretary would take the party further to the right and branded him a "complete unknown".
Mr Clarke denounced him for spearheading the Commons revolt over the Maastricht Treaty that paralysed John Major's government. "My history of loyalty to the party is impeccable. Personally, I have never taken part in any long organised rebellions in cahoots with the Labour Party," he said.
Mr Clarke said that his opponents held tougher anti-European views than William Hague, adding: "He is a 'never' man on the single currency and wants to renegotiate the treaties. Iain's conclusion is that we weren't Eurosceptic enough at the last election and he has, to be fair, a long and principled position [of] actually wishing, as far as I can see, to leave the European Union unless the treaties can be renegotiated satisfactorily."
He said he would support Mr Duncan Smith if he won the leadership contest but would "advise him against a sudden lurch to the right, which I think would be electorally as disastrous as the lurch William [Hague] made." Turning to his rival's lack of experience, Mr Clarke said: "He is a complete unknown. I understand his desire to get out there and make himself a recognised face. It is not a problem I have."
A spokesman for Mr Duncan Smith retorted: "The Conservative Party is sick and tired of fellow Conservatives abusing other Conservatives. Iain Duncan Smith will continue to fight the campaign for the leadership of the party on the issues and policies that affect the membership and the general public of this country, not unsubstantiated accusations."
The clashes come as Conservative Central Office prepares to send out more than 300,000 voting forms to party members. The bookmakers have made Mr Duncan Smith a narrow favourite in the contest but the result remains the most unpredictable of any recent Tory leadership contest.Reuse content