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Blair offers pro-Europe BP boss a job

Diane Coyle

The Blair government has sent a strong signal that it will take a more positive approach to co-operation with Europe by offering Sir David Simon, the pro-single currency chairman of British Petroleum, a formal role in Government.

Sir David is still in discussions over what he might do because he is very reluctant to quit BP and is concerned that he could not do justice to both jobs.

But a statement from the company said that he "would very much like to play a part in shaping the UK's relations with its partners".

The possible government jobs suggested to the BP chairman include a ministerial position at the Department of Trade and Industry. Whether he accepts or settles for an informal advisory role instead, the Government's approach to Sir David suggests it will be substantially more constructive than the Conservatives in its dealings with the EU.

Along with Niall Fitzgerald, chairman of Unilever, Sir David is regarded as one of the strongest supporters in the business community of the single European currency.

In a recent pamphlet published by the Blairite Centre for European Reform, of which he is a trustee, he wrote: "A single currency, introduced at the appropriate time, will reduce costs for businesses that trade or invest across Europe, as well as giving Britain a better chance of sustaining a sound monetary policy and low inflation."

Most observers believe that the Government will not seek to take the UK into the single currency in the first wave, but the choice of a pro- monetary union business adviser would certainly encourage hopes of later membership.

Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, said yesterday: "We need to give Britain new leadership, and to drive for the early completion of the single market."

She said that the Government's policies towards Europe would be tailored to business needs.

"I want us to have the benefits of stable and co-operative relations between employers," Mrs Beckett said. "The Social Chapter and the national minimum wage are tools we should use to help us achieve this."

Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that Britain would immediately take the first steps towards signing the Social Chapter.

Some of Labour's own economic advisers have private reservations about the plan for a minimum wage, but none believes the Social Chapter will be damaging to business.

Sir David is expected to make his decision about whether to take up the offer of a government position within the next few days.

Doug Henderson was appointed Minister for Europe yesterday.