Pro-Europe Tories attack `cowardice'

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David Davis was yesterday appointed as Britain's negotiator for the working party on the future of the European Union, as Tory Euro-enthusiasts attacked the "cowardice'' of senior ministers towards the Euro-sceptics. Mr Davis, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office responsible for Europe, is regarded as a tough negotiator - and a Euro-sceptic.

The Positive European group of Tory MPs met last night at the Commons to underline their concern at the apparent shift in the Government's rhetoric towards the Euro-sceptics.

The sticking point for the pro-Europeans, led by Hugh Dykes, is to keep open the option of Britain entering into a single European currency in 1999.

They fear Mr Major is preparing to harden the Government's approach by closing that option, as the nine Tory Euro-rebels demanded in their manifesto last week.

A senior member of the Cabinet said yesterday that the Euro-sceptics in the Cabinet would not push Mr Major further on the issue, because it would cause a fundamental split with Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, and Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, andthreaten resignations.

"Why have an argument when it is not necessary?'' the source said.

Mr Major has told the Euro-sceptics in the Cabinet, including Peter Lilley, Michael Portillo, Jonathan Aitken, Michael Howard and John Redwood, that they will be included in the policy-making for the Inter-Governmental Conference.

The Euro-enthusiasts remain suspicious of the increasing influence of the Euro-sceptics, and will be seeking reassurances at a meeting with Mr Hurd.

They believe Mr Clarke's conciliatory remarks at the weekend were an attempt to avoid deepening the split.

Mr Dykes said: "It is deeply disturbing that senior ministers are actively preparing to re-admit the Tory rebels to the whip by accepting some of their terms and conditions.

"The majority of pro-Europeans in the party are fed up to the back teeth with this cowardly nonsense based on lies and misinformation about the European Union.''

Sir Edward Heath, the former Prime Minister, urged Mr Major to be more positive on Europe. "We cannot have the position of the party and the Government run by a handful of Euro-sceptics; that is just not on.

"Anybody who thinks we can regain public support by that is completely wrong. We are following policies which are very sceptical,'' Sir Edward said in a BBC interview.