Clarke tells Hague to 'grow up' over euro

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Kenneth Clarke warned William Hague yesterday that the Tories' "extreme Euroscepticism" was not behind their recent opinion poll recovery and could lose the party the next general election.

Kenneth Clarke warned William Hague yesterday that the Tories' "extreme Euroscepticism" was not behind their recent opinion poll recovery and could lose the party the next general election.

The former Chancellor also suggested Mr Hague would have to "grow up" if he became Prime Minister and drop his Europhobic tone. He dismissed as nonsense the Tories' warnings that joining the single currency would suck Britain into a superstate and that taxes would rise.

"The rhetoric has got to be toned down a bit on Europe because we are preparing to govern now," Mr Clarke said. "When William gets to No 10 he'll find that he has to live in the grown-up world of a rapidly changing economic and political situation in Europe where that rhetoric simply won't fit."

He mocked Eurosceptic newspapers for celebrating the No vote in last week's Danish referendum on the euro. "When we get a Conservative government, then they won't be wearing Viking helmets and celebrating the Danish referendum," he said. "They will be facing up to the realistic problem of how does Britain remain a great power in the modern world. If you look at the real world that means getting involved in the process of European integration."

Mr Clarke told a fringe meeting in Bournemouth: "The support of pro-Europeans in the Conservative Party and, even more importantly, the proEuropean section of the population is absolutely crucial if we are going to win the next general election. Extreme Euro-scepticism will certainly not win us a general election ... The one policy we have had for two years officially that is quite clear is the Euroscepticism of the party, and we have languished in the polls."

Mr Clarke said: "The economic consequences of staying outside the single currency are already hitting us." Manufacturing industry was suffering badly from an exchange rate that was floating against European competitors, and Britain's long-term attractiveness for inward investment was being damaged.

His speech reignited the Tory divisions on Europe and irritated Mr Hague's allies, who claimed Mr Clarke was now isolated on the issue in the party.

Francis Maude, the Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, said Mr Clarke was wrong to claim that no European Union leaders wanted a federal superstate. "We aren't going to be deterred from speaking out against it. We have to tell the truth about what is happening," he said.

Mr Hague swiftly ignored Mr Clarke's advice, declaring that the single currency would be a crucial part of the party's general election campaign. He told a windswept "Keep the Pound" rally outside the Bournemouth conference centre that he would continue with his series of open-air meetings across the country between now and polling day.

Standing by his trademark white truck which has toured the country, Mr Hague told 200 supporters: "It will be a key part of the next general election, because it is at that election the decision will be made. Our party will take that message across the country. We are dedicated to our campaign to keep the pound."

Mr Hague told the conference the Tories would call a referendum if they ever recommended entry into the euro. "I believe that any government that wants to take the country into the euro should have to have a referendum before it can do so." Previously, he has promised a referendum only on changes to the Treaty of Rome.

Labour claimed the pledge was made to woo Paul Sykes, the businessman who is said to be offering the Tories up to £20m for the next general election campaign but wants them to promise a referendum on the single currency.