Tory candidates demand a tougher line on Europe

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Indy Politics

Almost half of the Conservative Party's general election candidates support a tougher line on Europe than William Hague, according to a new survey.

Almost half of the Conservative Party's general election candidates support a tougher line on Europe than William Hague, according to a new survey.

It suggests that 78 of the candidates who will contest the party's 170 target marginal seats hold more Eurosceptic views than the party's official policy of being "in Europe, not run by Europe". Another 81 back the party line, while only 11 share the Europhile views championed by Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine.

Of 1,004 Tories on the party's list of candidates, 341 are described as sceptics, 493 back Mr Hague's policy of ruling out membership of the single currency during the next Parliament, while 170 are Europhiles.

Sceptics were defined as people who oppose the euro on principle and who would refuse to vote for its introduction even if they were ordered to by the party leadership, and would never accept the supremacy of European law and the abolition of Parliament's sovereignty.

The survey suggests that the Tories have become much more hostile to the European Union since Mr Hague won the party's overwhelming backing for his policy two years ago. It also points to him coming under pressure to adopt a harder line after the election by saying the Tories would never join the single currency. Mr Hague has been reluctant to do so, since it could provoke some Europhiles into leaving the party.

The poll was carried out by the European Foundation, a Eurosceptic think-tank chaired by William Cash, MP for Stone, and is reported in its European Journal magazine.

Allister Heath, the group's head of research, said: "After the next general election, a new generation of radical Euro-realists will take seats in Parliament. A greater proportion of Conservative MPs than ever before will oppose the euro and seek to renegotiate many aspects of Britain's membership of the EU. In doing so, they will reflect the growing scepticism of the Conservative Party's grass roots. The Europhile minority in the Conservative party has been warned: it will be reduced to an isolated rump in the next Parliament."

The survey suggests that Eurosceptics are being chosen to succeed Tory MPs who are standing down at the election. Boris Johnson, editor of The Spectator magazine, will contest Henley, now represented by Mr Heseltine, while Jonathan Djanogly will take over from John Major inHuntingdon.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said last night: "This is clear evidence that the Tory party, given the chance, would continue its lurch to the right after the next election. As Michael Heseltine has warned, the 'Britain Out' brigade has taken over the Conservative party. If elected, the Tories would pose a real threat to our membership of the EU."

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