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Tuesday, January 19, 1999 Published at 23:06 GMT

UK Politics

MEPs quit 'euro-sceptic' Tory party

John Stevens and Brendan Donnelly want the UK to join the euro

Two Conservatives MEPs have resigned from the party, saying it has become too euro-sceptic.

Political Correspondent Emma Udwin: "They say a Conservative victory would be bad for Britain"
John Stevens and Brendan Donnelly now plan to establish an alternative Conservative Party to fight the Euro-elections scheduled for June.

A Tory party spokesman has already dismissed the resignations as "sour grapes".

The move comes at a bad time for Tory leader William Hague who is attempting to stamp his authority on the party by attacking Prime Minister Tony Blair's "third way". He is offering voters the Tory alternative, which Mr Hague calls the "British way".

'No compromise'

Mr Stevens said: "I decided to resign from the Conservative Party because I can no longer vote Conservative at the Euro-elections or at general elections.

"There is no half-way house between supporting EMU [European Monetary Union] and opposing it. Those who are not actively working for the British membership of EMU, campaigning for it, speaking out for it are in effect working against it."

Explaining his reasons for resigning, Mr Donnelly said: "The Conservative Party, ironically, is acting as a break on our ability to get into EMU and I don't want to be a party to any such project."

But Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of the Conservative MEPs, said the pair had already been deselected.

"Both these people were coming to the end of their careers in the European Parliament. They were clearly disappointed by this and their bitterness is the clear reason which underlies their decision to leave the party."

Former Tory MP Hugh Dykes, now a Liberal Democrat candidate for the Euro-elections, commended the pair's "brave decision" to leave the Conservative Party.

But he insisted "the only logical place" for pro-Europeans was in the Lib Dems. "There is no sign that other Tory politicians will have the guts to do what these two have done after much agonising," he added.

Euro policy 'rigid'

The Conservative Party has long been divided over Europe, and the efforts of the two men to set up a new pro-European Conservative Party are sure to frustrate Mr Hague.

The Tory leader thought he had lain Europe to rest as an issue. During last year's annual party conference members overwhelmingly backed his policy of staying out of the single currency for at least the next eight years.

But many senior members of the party, including former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine and former chancellor Kenneth Clarke, feel Mr Hague has made Tory policy on the euro unnecessarily rigid.

Whether the pair of MEPs can persuade any of their former Conservative colleagues to join them remains to be seen but under the new party list system of proportional representation it is not impossible that they could retain their seats.

[ image: MEP James Moorhouse left Tory Party in October]
MEP James Moorhouse left Tory Party in October
Mr Donnelly's Sussex South and Crawley seat and Mr Stevens's Thames Valley seat will come under the new South East region which will return 11 members.

If they manage to set up a new party it would need to poll about 5% of the vote for one of them to keep their seat.

The resignation of the two MEPs brings the total to three who have left the Tory party since Mr Hague became leader.

Last October James Moorhouse defected to the Liberal Democrats after disagreeing with Mr Hague's policy on the euro.

At the same time as Mr Moorhouse's resignation it was reported that Mr Donnelly and Mr Stevens had commissioned a poll to test the viability of a breakaway party.

The study undertaken by Mori polled 1,800 people, and suggested that 16% would back the existing Tories while 10% would back a hypothetical pro-European party led by Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke.

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