Hague tells Tory rebels: Go ahead, make my day

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Indy Politics

WILLIAM HAGUE challenged Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine yesterday to carry on speaking out, saying their defiance of Tory policy would help make Europe the number one issue at the general election.

WILLIAM HAGUE challenged Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine yesterday to carry on speaking out, saying their defiance of Tory policy would help make Europe the number one issue at the general election.

The Tory leader assumed the unlikely mantle of "Dirty Harry", the American film cop played by Clint Eastwood, when he said: "I don't mind people talking about this issue. If they want to make my day everyday they can do so. Make my day, go on talking about the pound, make this the central issue in British politics."

Mr Hague adopted a high risk strategy after Mr Clarke and Mr Heseltine shared a platform with Tony Blair at last week's launch of the Britain In Europe campaign. Although the Tory civil war over Europe may damage the party, Mr Hague is gambling that this will be outweighed by public support for his crusade to keep the pound.

Supporters of the euro would not serve in his shadow cabinet or a future Tory cabinet, he said on BBC Television's Breakfast With Frost programme. "We know that people disagreed in the past and that those people who served in past governments will go on doing so."

However, Mr Hague softened his line on the EU's future after Tory and Labour pro-Europeans portrayed his call for reform of the way the EU works as code for withdrawal.

Explaining his plans to allow all member states to opt out of new laws from Brussels, he insisted he was "not proposing a change to past treaties" but a new provision in the review starting next year.

He denied wanting to pull out of the EU. "We believe in being in Europe, not taken over by Europe - both parts of that are very important - being in the European Union but not increasingly governed from the European Union," he said.

Mr Hague sought to rebuild his bridges with John Major, who has attacked his European policy as "absurd and crazy". The Tory leader denied there was an attempt to "airbrush" Mr Major out of history at this month's party conference in Blackpool, and said that both the Major and Thatcher governments had transformed Britain's economy.

Mr Clarke warned Mr Hague yesterday not to make the Tories a single-issue party at the next election. "If we box ourselves in too much, I shall begin to wonder whether we really think we are going to win," he told London Weekend Television's Jonathan Dimbleby programme.

Mr Clarke predicted that a future Tory government would quickly drop Mr Hague's policy of ruling out membership of the euro in the next Parliament.

He insisted he supported Mr Hague and appeared to concede he would never become Tory leader. "That depends on whether anybody asks me, but I don't think they're ever going to."

A Labour spokesman said: "It's no use William Hague pretending he is Clint Eastwood. That would be the most ludicrous bit of casting ever to have emerged from Hollywood."

Labour seized on the announcement by Andrew Rowe that he is to stand down as Tory MP for Faversham and Mid Kent at the next general election after warning that Mr Hague was "mistaken" about the euro.

Mr Rowe said: "We are going to lose the election because the world is full of people who will soon realise they can pay their bills when they go to Torremolinos in euros."

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