In a highly integrationist speech to a fringe meeting hosted by the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward group, Mr Powell accepted there had been no covert 'deal' with the IRA and Sinn Fein but declared there was a new instalment of the 'old game plan' which had been in operation since 1919: 'Give Northern Ireland a separate identity, and we'll soon get rid of it out of the UK.'
Mr Powell's typically outspoken and enthusiastically received address insisted that the Union - which John Major had warned was at risk from Scottish or Welsh devolution - was the 'one protection against being taken out of the nation to which you belong'. The plea of the people of Northern Ireland was for local government, 'no less, no more' than in the rest of Britain.
He asserted that since the purpose of the IRA was to get Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom, it had become 'the creature of the Government of the UK'. He went on to heap criticism on the United States for ordering the UK 'to exercise its best efforts to satisfy the IRA'.
That theme was reflected later in a speech by Lord Tebbit, the Thatcherite former party chairman, who told a European Foundation fringe meeting that President Bill Clinton 'believes he can push us around even in Northern Ireland as though this was a Caribbean banana republic'.
While employing more diplomatic language, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, pressed home a similar point during his reply to yesterday's foreign affairs debate. 'We welcome support from across the Atlantic . . . But we, and we alone, have the responsibility for the essential decisions of timing and substance.'
David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann, said after Mr Powell's speech: 'He was drawing attention to what has been a constant strand in British official thinking . . . If the IRA don't get concessions they will return to violence. '
The almost revivalist atmosphere of yesterday's meeting was reflected in the growing number of signatories to a petition demanding that the so-called 'North Down Amendment', proposed by the North Down Conservative Association, be called during tomorrow afternoon's debate on Northern Ireland.
This and a similarly integrationist addendum from Bridgend Conservative Association urges the Government to 'actively persuade all the citizens of Northern Ireland that their best future lies as full and equal citizens within the United Kingdom'.
The additional motions effectively seek to commit the Government to being 'persuaders' for the Union, in contrast to the main motion, which reflects the desire for a negotiated peace consistent with the rights of the people of Northern Ireland to determine their future by democratic means.
William Stuttaford, chairman of this year's conference, has the last word on whether to call either or one of them. The expectation is that he will decline to do so.Reuse content