British voters still hostile to euro

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The Independent Online
The unyielding hostility of British voters to a single European currency threatens serious political trouble for the Blair government, if it keeps its promise to put British membership of the euro to a referendum, in 1999 or possibly even earlier. Preliminary figures from the latest British Social Attitudes survey show 61 per cent of UK residents want to keep the pound as the sole currency. Only 17 per cent would like to see the euro replace sterling, and the same proportion would like both currencies to be used side-by-side.

Field work for the1997 survey, carried out among 1,400 adults, was carried out just before the election when Euro-sceptic Tories were making the anti-European case particularly noisily. Even so, the results are virtually identical to those of 1995 and 1994, the first time the single currency question was put to respondents. Opposition was strongest in England, and marginally less strong in Scotland. Only Wales registered a small majority for the euro, albeit as a partner, rather than a replacement, for the pound.

For both parties the findings will only deepen the single currency quandary. Though the Government's line is that membership in the 1999 first wave is "unlikely," officially all options remain open, and the balance has recently seemed to be shifting towards joining sooner rather than later.

Tory foes of European monetary union will be heartened by the poll. But on the eve of the party conference the pro-European former Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, yesterday re-opened party divisions when he dismissed as "a bit vague" the position of party leader, William Hague, that Britain should not join the euro for the foreseeable future.

--Rupert Cornwell