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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 09:51 GMT
Ex-Tories join Lib Dems over euro
Selection of euro notes
The euro: Set for adoption in 12 countries
The founder of the breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party is folding the group and joining the Liberal Democrats.

John Stevens, a former Tory MEP, blames the move on the failure by pro-euro Conservatives like Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke to fight euro-scepticism in the party.

If there is a referendum on the euro and the "yes" side win, the majority of the Conservative Party will not accept that outcome

John Stevens
Lord Heseltine has rejected the criticism, saying he and Mr Clarke both made it "absolutely clear" the would not leave the Conservative Party.

The former deputy prime minister also says the first signs have emerged the party is returning to its "sanity" on the issue of Europe, despite the leadership's "never" stance on the euro.

Mr Stevens says he hopes his group would help the Lib Dems displace the Tories as the official opposition in the next election by attracting disaffected moderates to their ranks.

'No help from grandees'

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday, he criticised the lack of support pro-Europeans gave to his group.

"Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten are not now going to break with the Tory party and in my view therefore lend, unfortunately, credibility to what's now a really extreme right-wing leadership," said Mr Stevens.

Lord Heseltine
Heseltine: Eurosceptic tide is turning
The complacency and weakness of Tory pro-Europeans was one of the reasons why the current Eurosceptic "clique" had been able to take control.

"If there is a referendum on the euro and the 'yes' side win, the majority of the Conservative Party will not accept that outcome."

Lord Heseltine argued Mr Stevens had completely misread the situation.

If MPs alone had elected the Conservative leader, the contest would have been won by Ken Clarke despite the Euroscepticism, he suggested.

"That is the first sign that the party is returning to its sanity in its absolute historic preoccupation with actually winning elections."

Most Tory MPs now realised the cost Euroscepticism had caused and were prepared to bury the issue.

"We will have a referendum, it will be an uphill struggle but it is winnable if the government ever has the guts to fight it and that is the point at which the Conservative Party will dig itself out of a hole."

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy: The group is "welcome"

The move to wind up the Pro-European Conservative Party - to be ratified by a meeting of the Pro-Euro Tories on Monday night - was welcomed by Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy.

"The Conservatives are no longer the party that they once were and they [Mr Stevens' group] have rightly decided that the Liberal Democrats share many of their values. They will be very welcome in our party."

Mr Stevens founded his party in February 1999, after he was dropped as a Tory candidate because of his views on Europe.

The party's main aim was to get the UK to join the single currency as soon as possible, but it also called for the Conservatives to reform themselves and return to more moderate values.

Split hopes dashed

The group contains little more than a dozen new members, but they include one former MP and two former MEPs, said Lib Dem aides.

The party says it has 500 supporters and a mailing list of 3,500 people.

When he formed the group, Mr Stevens hoped to cause a formal party split, attracting "europhile" grandees such as Mr Patten, Mr Clarke and Lord Heseltine.

But none of the big names jumped, despite being embroiled in high-profile arguments within the party over the euro.

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"To its critics the pro-euro Conservative party was a side show"
Conservative peer, Lord Heseltine
"I think he has completely misread the turn of events"
See also:

28 May 99 | Parties and Issues
Pro-Euro Conservative Party
04 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Mandelson: Blair can win on euro
01 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Labour chairman pushes for euro
30 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Euro entry 'many years away'
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