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Friday, November 21, 1997 Published at 14:56 GMT

UK: Politics

Pro-European quits Tories
image: [ Peter Temple-Morris says he wants
Peter Temple-Morris says he wants "freedom of conscience"

Pro-European MP Peter Temple-Morris has told BBC Radio 5Live that he is resigning from the Conservative Party after being suspended from the parliamentary party.

The veteran MP for Leominster says he will sit as an Independent One Nation Conservative, but denies it is the beginning of a split in the Conservative Party.

Tory officials say the decision to suspend him was taken because Mr Temple-Morris had "repeatedly and publicly questioned his continued commitment to the Conservative Party".

A spokesman for the opposition leader, William Hague, said: "It is unacceptable for any Conservative MP to continue to receive the party whip when his loyalty to the party remains so openly in question."

But a BBC correspondent says Mr Hague's action is bound to be seen as an attempt to deflect attention from the disappointing election results for the Tories in Winchester and Beckenham.

It emerged recently that Mr Temple-Morris, an MP for 24 years, had held two meetings with the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, about defecting. But he pulled back in October after the former Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, backed moves by pro-Europeans to press Mr Hague for a softer line on the single currency and was supported by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine.

This led Mr Hague to make it plain that backbenchers would be free to campaign for alternatives to the official party line - toughened last month from a "negotiate-and-decide" stance on the euro.

But in a letter sent to his constituency on Tuesday, Mr Temple-Morris said: "To have a licence to dissent is not enough for me when I have to campaign for the election to government of a party with such an official policy on the single most important decision the country has to face."

He added: "I shall be making clear to my association that I will not be standing, in the present circumstances, as their candidate at the next election.

"During this Parliament it is my intention to remain within the Conservative Party but should it become difficult for me over the next four years, for whatever reasons, I will not hesitate to resign and will sit as the Independent One-Nation Conservative MP for Leominster".

Speaking after his resignation, the 59-year-old MP told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I'm not surprised in all the circumstances and not a little bit relieved in view of the unhappy state of politics of the Conservative Party for some years now."

He said he now intended to enjoy "freedom of conscience rather than association with a party that increasingly I don't support".

But Mr Temple-Morris added that he was disappointed by Mr Hague's decision. "I'm very sad at the timing of it, that it's come purely because of a statement of my own position, which went to my own Conservative association and my own constituency, which was welcomed by my chairman because it tells them exactly where I stood for the rest of this parliament."

His position was "not an isolated one within the Conservative Party", he said, adding: "I've just been more forthright in expressing it."

Peter Temple-Morris explains the reasons behind his resignation

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