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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 December 2005, 17:22 GMT
Tory MEPs to fight Cameron plan
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News Website Europe reporter

European parliament
The centre-right EPP is the largest group in the parliament
British Conservative MEPs are preparing to resist moves to cut the party's links with the European Parliament's main centre-right group.

New Tory leader David Cameron confirmed on Tuesday that he wanted to withdraw from the euro-integrationist European People's Party - European Democrats.

But one senior Conservative MEP, Sir Robert Atkins, said Mr Cameron could not take an "arbitrary" decision.

"He has to come and talk to us and discuss his plans," he added.

The City of London, the IOD and the CBI think it would be hugely damaging
Sir Robert Atkins
deputy leader of Tory MEPs
"The decision can only be taken in consultation with the leader of the Conservative group in the European Parliament."

Sir Robert said the MEPs would point out some facts, and that it would be possible to reach a "sensible solution".

On Tuesday, the 27 Tory MEPs re-elected their chairman, Timothy Kirkhope, by a two-thirds majority on what one EPP source described as a "stay-in-the-group" ticket.

Mr Kirkhope issued a statement afterwards saying only that he looked forward to a "positive and constructive working relationship with [Cameron)]and his shadow foreign secretary".

Fear of split

The losing candidate, Chris Heaton-Harris, who has long campaigned for withdrawal from the EPP, said he expected the break with the group would be a "relatively quick thing" once Mr Cameron appointed a shadow foreign secretary.

"For reasons of party unity I have stayed in the EPP since 1999. I hope my colleagues who are unhappy will also show loyalty," he said.

For reasons of party unity I have stayed in the EPP since 1999. I hope my colleagues who are unhappy will also show loyalty
Tory MEP Chris Heaton-Harris

He said he hoped the Tory MEPs would not split in two.

Sir Robert told the BBC News website that an alliance with the biggest political group in the parliament was crucial, even though Tories voted against the EPP in about one in three votes.

He added that the City of London, the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry, all thought a split from the EPP would be "hugely damaging".

Realignment

David Cameron argues that it is wrong for a eurosceptic party to be allied with the federalist EPP.

He is said to be banking on a major realignment of forces in the European Parliament.

On Tuesday one anti-EPP Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, launched a new right-wing eurosceptic network, the Alliance for Open Europe, promoting national sovereignty, free trade and "maximum devolution of power".

Reports said 18 MEPs attended the launch, but Mr Hannan has estimated that up to 70 could join.

But Sir Robert Atkins said other centre-Right parties in the EU had made clear they saw no reason to join a breakaway British group.

The alternative to setting up a new group, he added, was sitting with the parliament's independents, including French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and the grand-daughter of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.


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