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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 09:11 GMT
Lib Dem MPs 'plan euro revolt'
Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy: wants immediate euro entry

Key Liberal Democrat MPs are secretly preparing to ditch their support for the single European currency, a cross-party campaign group has claimed.

The move would represent the first significant split on Europe in the party's history.

Leader Charles Kennedy went into last year's general election promising immediate UK entry into the single currency.

But campaign group New Europe has told BBC News Online it has received private assurances from Lib Dem MPs, including senior figures in the party, that they would back a no vote if a referendum was held in the current parliament.

It declined to name the MPs involved.

'Tolerated'

So far only Legal Affairs spokesman John Burnett and Labour Party defector Paul Marsden have openly come out against the euro on the Lib Dem benches.

But according to New Europe several more are ready to defy the party line.

Mr Burnett says his views were known when he was unanimously selected for his Devon West and Torridge seat.

He told BBC News Online he strongly supported Britain remaining the European Union but was opposed to euro entry in the current parliament.

His views were tolerated by Mr Kennedy and other Lib Dem MPs, he said.

"Everyone knows my views. I say my piece at party meetings.

"I am a member of a very mature party. It is a party that can easily cope with discussion and dissent," he said.

He said there many more MPs in the Lib Dem ranks - and the Labour Party - who shared his views and would make them known if a referendum was called.

'Biggest impact'

Alan Laing, New Europe's campaign manager, agreed that there were a number of undeclared anti-euro MPs in the Lib Dem ranks.


Compared to the other parties the Lib Dems are still going to be the most united on this issue

Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesman
But he said: "They are unwilling to speak out now because they are worried about their careers."

He said the anti-euro Lib Dems wanted to time their announcement "to make the biggest impact."

He added: "Charles Kennedy's strategy on the euro is at odds with the views of most of his party members."

Party 'relaxed'

Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesman Mark Oaten said he was aware of "two or three" Lib Dem MPs who might vote against the single currency.

But he was not aware of any plans by Lib Dem MPs to actively campaign against entry.

He told BBC News Online: "I would be rather relaxed if a small minority of Lib Dem MPs got involved in voting against - even campaigning against - the euro.

"Compared to the other parties the Lib Dems are still going to be the most united on this issue."

Labour opposition

Last month, Labour MPs drafted a letter to The Guardian newspaper, calling on the government to concentrate on the "real priorities" for Britain and ignore the "costly distraction" of the euro.

The letter was signed by 30 Labour MPs including senior backbenchers Austin Mitchell and Dennis Skinner.

New Europe's cross-party parliamentary group has 24 members. It is chaired by former Labour minister Frank Field.

Mr Laing said many more Labour MPs were waiting in the wings to join the anti-euro cause.

"It will be biggest rebellion since Tony Blair was elected in 1997," he predicted.


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18 Feb 02 | Politics
22 Jan 02 | Politics
17 Sep 02 | Politics
24 Jan 02 | Politics
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