Major watches his back in tough stance on EU

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John Major last night threatened a clash with Germany at the Inter-Governmental Conference next year over demands for more qualified majority voting in decision-making in Europe, writes Colin Brown.

Right-wing Conservative MPs privately said last night that if Mr Major weakened his stand on Europe, he would face a leadership challenge in the autumn. Euro-sceptics are privately pressing for Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, to stand down. They are convinced Mr Hurd has decided not to retire early in order to protect the Government's European policy.

The right wing are now seeking to toughen the European policy for the IGC. They believe it will help to show clear differences with Labour's policy on Europe, and appeal to disillusioned Tory voters, who are critical of greater European integration.

The first test will be the Cabinet reshuffle, which government sources confirmed would not be brought forward and would take place in July. One leading Tory critic said: "Major has got to get the reshuffle right. If he fails, there will be a leadership challenge in November."

The Prime Minister's office made it clear that he had said there was "no case" for an extension of qualified majority voting - voting on some issues which could go through without unanimity - in the EU, and had not changed his mind. Sources rejected German threats to stall the enlargement of the EU, which Britain is keen to achieve, until more QMV is agreed.

- voting on some issues which could go through without unanimity - is agreed. "It will not be either enlargement or no extension of QMV - that is a crude simplification," one senior Government source said.

The Prime Minister's stand has pleased Euro-sceptic Tory MPs who want him to carry out his warning to use the veto at the IGC. Britain would go to the IGC with a positive agenda, Mr Major said. His shopping list included more subsidiarity - with decisions taken at national level where appropriate; more action against fraud; and a stronger role for the national Parliament.

"We shall not surrender our veto or opt-outs," he said. The Prime Minister also said he would consider publishing Britain's proposals to be put to the EU study group for the IGC next month.