Defiant MPs play the race card

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A group of Tory MPs last night threatened to defy Cabinet appeals for party unity until polling day by issuing a West Midlands Tory manifesto to raise immigration and opposition to the European single currency as election issues.

Nicholas Budgen, a leading Tory Euro-sceptic, said the MPs were planning to meet this week formally to discuss issuing a joint election address highlighting the two policies, because "it will have more impact", although it is certain to cause fresh embarrassment for the Tory leadership.

Mr Budgen has been under pressure to drop his pursuit of the immigration issue since raising it at Prime Minister's Questions. John Major has been wooing the Asian vote, but the Tory campaign guide shows that all Tory candidates are fighting on a commitment to oppose Labour's proposals for liberalising the immigration laws.

Mr Budgen said: "Immigration is an issue, and what is an issue is not decided by spin doctors, or if I may diffidently suggest, even by the Prime Minister." On the single currency, he said: "The Cabinet hasn't made up its mind - we have."

Michael Portillo, Secretary of State for Defence, appealed on GMTV's Sunday Programme to Tory MPs not to rock the boat, saying individual campaigns like this would distract attention from the election campaign.