Four of Britain's most distinguished former cabinet ministers have accused The Times of bias against the euro after the newspaper refused to publish a letter arguing for membership of the single currency.
The former secretaries of state took the extraordinary step yesterday of issuing a statement accusing The Times of behaving in "a wholly partisan way" by refusing to publish a pro-euro letter from 16 former ambassadors.
The letter, whose signatories included Sir Michael Palliser and Sir Nicholas Henderson, two former UK ambassadors to the EU, was a response to an anti-euro letter signed by nine former ambassadors published in the paper earlier this month.
Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, a former chancellor of the exchequer, Lord Howe of Aberavon, a former foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, a former defence secretary, and Lord Hurd of Westwell, a former foreign secretary, issued a statement yesterday accusing the editor of The Times, Robert Thomson, of bias and declining to take their phone calls after the letter did not appear.
"The Times, which many people take mainly for its correspondence columns and a few other features, can hardly expect to keep any of its position as an authoritative national journal if it behaves in this wholly partisan way," they wrote. "Attempts on December 20 to speak to the editor met with the repeated response that he was in conference but would ring back as soon as he was free. He did not do so."
The pro-euro lobby group Britain in Europe had responded to the anti-euro letter with one signed by the 16 former ambassadors, arguing for the benefits of euro membership. But a letter by Sir John Leahy, former ambassador to South Africa, rejecting the anti-euro arguments was printed instead.
The Times denied it was guilty of bias and said it had already committed itself to printing the letter from Sir John when the ambassadors' letter arrived.
"The Times has gone to an enormous amount of trouble not to take sides in disputes," said Ivan Barnes, letters editor.
"I accepted Sir John Leahy's letter three days before Britain in Europe offered their letter."
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, is to run five economic tests before June to assess whether it would be in Britain's interests to join.