Whipless Tories to have their price on Europe

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Some of the nine whipless Tory MPs are prepared to vote with the Government in next week's make-or-break vote on Europe, but they are expecting a strongly Euro-sceptic tone to the Prime Minister's speech as the price for their support. Their demands could push tensions between John Major and Kenneth Clarke over a single European currency to the limit.

On Monday, Mr Major will put his name to a Euro-sceptic Tory document, supported by up to 90 Tory MPs, for "variable geometry" in Europe, in which a core group of countries, including France and Germany, could go ahead with a single currency without Britain.

The Prime Minister has written the foreword to the pamphlet by Michael Spicer, a leading Euro-sceptic loyal to Mr Major. It is in line with Mr Major's three policy statements on Europe. Mr Major said in Scotland yesterday that he would be using his speech on Wednesday to clear up "misunderstandings" over the Government's policy on Europe. The Euro-sceptic Tory MPs want him to rule out Britain's entry into a single currency for the lifetime of the next Parliament.

That would risk forcing the Chancellor to resign. One leading Euro-sceptic said: "Clarke is on his own. If he resigned, it would be no bad thing."

But other Cabinet colleagues have told the Independent they share Mr Clarke's view that the Tories must go into the next election with a manifesto commitment which keeps open the option of Britain's entry into a single currency.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, who will wind up the debate for the Government, said: "It would be foolish to resolve these issues before there is a choice before us."

Mr Major is likely to hint at the possibility of a referendum before any decision to join a single currency. Mr Clarke's implacable opposition to a referendum was reinforced yesterday when his Parliamentary Private Secretary, Angela Knight, came close to talking out a Bill to provide a European referendum introduced by Teresa Gorman, one of the whipless Tory rebels.

The debate on the Bill, which fell through lack of support, was dominated by Mrs Gorman's whipless Tory colleagues, who attacked Labour's attempt next week to defeat the Government.

The Ulster Unionists are expected to vote against the Government in a protest at the Anglo-Irish framework document. Their desertion has handed a powerful lever to the whipless MPs, who hold the balance of power in close votes.

Referendum debate, page 7