Top Tories rally to Major over Europe

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL HESELTINE yesterday said he was on no one's side but his own on Europe, as the Conservative Party leadership carefully distanced John Major from the Tory Europhobes.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, also sought to make it clear that the Prime Minister was not a hostage of the anti-Europeans after using the veto at the Corfu summit.

Refusing to rule out a single European currency, if economic convergence was achieved, the President of the Board of Trade said he supported the 'opt-out' for Britain which Mr Major had secured at Maastricht. Mr Heseltine said he had thought of the opt-out first, having advanced the idea in a speech in Germany immediately before his leadership challenge against Baroness Thatcher, which Mr Major won.

Sweeping aside a suggestion that Mr Major had joined the 'Euro-sceptics', Mr Heseltine said on BBC Radio: 'I support the option that the Prime Minister negotiated, and I am making the point I suggested that before I was a member of the Prime Minister's Cabinet.'

Mr Heseltine was accused of wooing the right wing recently when he met the Thatcherite No Turning Back group of Tory MPs, but his remarks will confirm the views of some that he is 'not one of us'. One Tory MP who was there said: 'We were not convinced by him.'

His determination to keep a distance from the Europhobes will further consolidate Mr Major's position with the right wing, in the aftermath of the Corfu summit, where he used the veto to block Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister, as the next president of the European Commission. Lady Thatcher let it be known yesterday that she thought his performance, in standing alone among the 12, was 'top- class'.

Mr Dehaene admitted yesterday that he now had very little chance of winning the post, but he stopped short of dropping out of the race. 'I am not blind, my chances are minimal,' he said.

Mr Hurd yesterday denied that Britain sought isolation. 'We in Britain have done with the debate about whether we are part of Europe or not. That is yesterday's debate. The terms pro-European and anti-European have outlived their usefulness. Europe is there and we are a part of it,' he said, in a speech to the Harborough Conservative Association.

The French business tycoon Bernard Tapie has teamed up with Scottish nationalists and other regional and reformist deputies to form a new political group in the European Parliament, the 'Radical European Alliance'.

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