Ministers woo Tory rebels on Europe

Click to follow
Indy Politics
THE GOVERNMENT will not re- enter the European exchange rate mechanism in the foreseeable future, nor could it do so until it was clear that faults in it no longer existed, it emphasised yesterday in a Tory Central Office European election campaign document.

Despite appearances to the contrary, that key message, aimed at placating Tory Euro-rebels in the run-up to the 9 June contests, was delivered without fanfare.

Cabinet heavyweights - Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade and David Hunt, Secretary of State for Employment - assembled on the Central Office campaign platform to highlight competitiveness and jobs as the core issues. The underlying purpose of the accompanying document, however, was to set out in advance of the Tory European manifesto the precise wording that has been adopted on the highly controversial subjects of the ERM and the single currency.

It came as the John Major loyalist, Tristan Garel-Jones, the former foreign office minister who piloted the Maastricht Bill through the Commons, urged him to conduct an 'extensive' Cabinet reshuffle. To avoid allegations of panic it should come before the coming elections, he said.

The release of the document, A Competitive Britain in a Competitive Europe, caused some head- scratching yesterday. The Government was due to publish its official opposition to the European Commission's Green Paper on social policy later in the day, and its own White Paper on competitiveness in the near future.

But party managers hope to avoid a row with the rebels when the manifesto is published by pointing out that the ERM and single currency policies have been on the record for some time.

On the single currency, the document spells out that 'we will retain the right to make our own decision on whether or not to take on the obligations leading to a single currency for Europe.' That language appears calculated to appeal to both wings of the party, but it is less negative than that used in John Major's much quoted Economist article on the subject last September, and is far from guaranteed to buy off critics.

As it was, yesterday's event was a vehicle for Mr Clarke and Mr Heseltine to present a seamless front of support for the Prime Minister and repeat their pledges not to challenge him. Spectacularly poor results will none the less rebound on him severely.

Mr Garel-Jones said the reshuffle should be based on 'ability and team playing'. Mr Major should 'forget about party balance' and go for talent.

In a strident message to the Euro-rebels, he urged the Prime Minister to let party whips 'off the leash' and the liberal use of confidence motions. 'No sector of the party must be allowed to indulge itself.' A genuine Tory agenda for Europe was 'largely going by default' because of 30 or 40 colleagues.

Mr Garel-Jones said Mr Major would fight attempts to remove him 'like an alley-cat'. Most would fight with him. 'The Tory party would go into opposition for a decade,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)