Tories steer towards 'constructive' EU policies

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The Conservative Party leadership turned its back on hardline Euroscepticism last night by endorsing the idea of closer co-operation with Britain's EU partners.

Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said that further EU integration would have to be voluntary and that countries should not be forced to give up their sovereignty.

But his speech to MEPs at the Royal Commonwealth Club in London was seen as an attempt to reposition the Tories and reassure pro-Europeans that it would adopt a more moderate stance than under William Hague's leadership, despite Iain Duncan Smith's track record as a Eurosceptic who rebelled over the Maastricht Treaty.

Although the Tories will maintain their opposition to joining the euro, they are to review their wider policy towards the EU and come up with "constructive" ideas for reform.

Mr Ancram rejected demands by Tory Eurosceptics to pull out of the European Union or to form a free-trade area with America. "To withdraw from the EU, either to go it alone or to engage in a Nafta-like trade area, would be a damaging course, forfeiting authority and benefit. We benefit from our trade with Europe," he said.

But he rejected moves towards a federal superstate and attacked Labour ministers for calling for a greater pooling of sovereignty, which would submerge Britain in an ever more centralised Europe. "They may work by stealth, but their agenda remains the creation of a supranational Europe," he said.