Die-hard sceptics remain defiant

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Indy Politics
Norman Lamont yesterday remained defiant over his rebellion against the Government, as John Major and Douglas Hurd celebrated their narrow Commons victory on Europe with a walk in St James's Park.

Cabinet colleagues and ex-ministerial Major loyalists heaped scorn on the former Chancellor, alleging he had committed "an inelegant act of suicide" by being the only Tory to vote against the Government on Wednesday over European policy.

Tristan Garel-Jones, the former minister responsible for European policy, said he did not wish to dance on the grave of Mr Lamont, but cast doubt on whether the latter had a political future, with the loss of his Kingston- upon-Thames seat in the boundary changes.

"What most of us feel is a sense really of sadness and even really of pity because Norman is a nice man, a civilised and intelligent man," he said. "He loves politics and I would suspect that his political career is now over. He loves the House of Commons. I think his days there are numbered. He loves the Conservative Party and yet he has turned his back on it."

David Mellor, his former Treasury Cabinet colleague, said: "The tragedy for Norman Lamont is that he is consumed by bitterness." Mr Lamont's constituency chairman, Jeff Reardon, called him "misguided", saying he would be the loser.

But Mr Lamont insisted: "I have no idea what the consequences are for me. That hasn't entered my head." The former Chancellor, who will return to the fray next week with a big speech reinforcing his opposition to a single currency, added: "I have always intended to spell out my views and to argue and I am afraid I will continue."

Mr Lamont's threat to keep up the pressure for more concessions from the Prime Minister on Europe was backed up by the nine whipless Tory rebels. Raising the stakes, Sir Richard Body told the Independent that he did not want the whip restored, although he had voted with the Government. He said the group planned to hold out until June, when a government White Paper was expected to be published on the inter-governmental conference on the future of Europe.

Some members of the group, including Richard Shepherd and Nicholas Budgen, who also voted with the Government, are keen to get the whip back. It is likely the group will split, leaving the die-hards to fight on for a referendum on entering a single European currency.