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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK

UK Politics

Blair 'to make Patten EU commissioner'

It could be me: Chris Patten is expected to get the Euro job

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Tony Blair is set to appoint arch Tory Europhile Chris Patten as a UK Commissioner in Europe.

The move is a calculated snub to William Hague who had already chosen his own candidate for the job.

And it signals the end of Mr Patten's ambitions to lead the Tory party, which is now overwhelmingly dominated by Eurosceptics.

It is also a blatant attempt by the prime minister to ensure the new Commission is comprised of pro-Europeans likely to follow the government line.

It will further undermine Mr Hague's authority and influence in the Brussels-based commission.

Mr Hague had already selected former Tory chief whip, Sir Alastair Goodlad, as his candidate for the job - which will be filled when the outgoing Commissioners quit later this year.

Follow tradition

He expected the prime minister to follow tradition and allow him to make his own selection to replace current commissioner Sir Leon Brittan.

[ image: The move is being seen as a calculated snub to the Tory leader]
The move is being seen as a calculated snub to the Tory leader
But, in a move branded "high-handed and arrogant" by some Tories, Mr Blair is said to have ignored custom and decided to appoint Mr Patten over Mr Hague's head.

Mr Patten will work alongside former Labour leader Neil Kinnock who is expected to continue as the government's representative on the Commission.

Mr Patten was Tory party chairman when he lost his Bath seat in parliament in the 1992 election.

He was made the last governor of Hong Kong by John Major, but was always seen as the favourite left-wing candidate for the Tory leadership.

But he has made no attempt to get back into Parliament and has happily expressed his enthusiasm for Europe, pointedly refusing to rule out the possibility that he might seek a commissioners job.

Unite party

In his seven years out of the Commons, the Tory party has become more Eurosceptic, undermining his chances of a successful comeback.

Nonetheless, his supporters claimed he would still have been able to unite the party.

He is certainly one of the party's most effective performers and was always high on the list of potential future prime ministers.

He is expected to be given a key portfolio when he goes to Brussels and Mr Blair will be looking to him to kick the discredited Commission into line.

The decision comes just a month before the crucial elections to the European Parliament, where Mr Hague needs to see Tory gains to underpin his recent local election successes and his own leadership.

The timing of the decision is being seen in Westminster as deliberate. Mr Hague is unlikely to want to start a major row over Europe which could re-open the deep divisions on his own benches just weeks before the elections.

Downing Street refused to confirm Mr Patten was their official choice, insisting: "We have not discussed names in the past and we do not intend to start now."

It was denied, however, that it would be a break with normal convention of letting the opposition leader pick one of the post-holders.

"The opposition nomination is part of the process. The decision rests with the prime minister."

Mr Hague said the nomination was "a matter for the prime minister" and said he would comment when there was something "substantive" to comment on.

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