Baroness Ashton of Upholland's past came back to haunt her yesterday when the European Union’s new foreign affairs chief was forced to deny taking funds from the Soviet Union during her days as treasurer for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Lady Ashton, a surprise choice for her post, was challenged to deny that she had contact with Russian sources while she was in charge of its accounts at the height of the Cold War.

The Times has learnt that concerns about her CND involvement are felt across countries from the former Iron Curtain now in the EU and that MEPs plan to question her about it when she appears before them for the hearing to confirm her in her post. Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party leader, raised the matter on the floor of the European Parliament yesterday, earning himself a reprimand for referring to Lady Ashton and Herman Van Rompuy, the new European President, as pygmies.

Mr Farage added: "She was treasurer during a period when CND took very large donations and refused to reveal the sources."

"What is known is that these donations were obtained by a man named Will Howard who was a member of the Communist Party in Great Britain. Will Baroness Ashton deny that while she was treasurer, she took funds from organisations opposed to Western-style democracy? Are we really happy that somebody who will be in charge of our overseas security policy was an activist in an outfit like CND? I do not think she is a fit and proper person to do this job."

Lady Ashton was not present but her spokesman said: "Like many people in the late 1970s, Catherine Ashton was involved in the big campaign movement of that time. This was more than 25 years ago. She left the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1983 and has had no involvement in the organisation since then."

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