CBI chief attacks Tory Eurosceptics

Sir Bryan Nicholson, the president of the Confederation of British Industry, last night launched a swingeing attack on the Eurosceptics within the Tory party, dismissing their demands that Britain should withdraw from the European Union, writes Michael Harrison.

He also warned that their "churlish xenophobia" and discourtesy was alienating a growing section of the business community.

Speaking at the CBI's annual dinner immediately after the Prime Minister John Major had rejected suggestions that Britain could flourish outside the EU, Sir Bryan said: "References to cloud cuckoo land are near the mark - but I am not sure they are strong enough. This spring seems to have brought forth a flock of cuckoos which are about as helpful as the biblical plague of locusts.

"Some of our parliamentarians conduct themselves with a discourtesy that only serves to embarrass and alienate those of us - a large and increasing number - who do business with our European partners.''

Sir Bryan said he was appalled by the standard of debate over Europe, which was characterised as a battle between Britain and Germany to prevent Chancellor Helmut Kohl from "ripping the Brits off". He added: "In this pungent atmosphere of romantic nationalism and churlish xenophobia I sometimes wonder if there are some among us who have failed to notice that the war with Germany has ended." EU membership, Sir Bryan said, was not incompatible with operating in a global market.

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