Blair's worries stall euro drive

Minister admits that PM won't campaign on single currency because he fears Britons may not want to be in the EU at all
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The Independent Online

Tony Blair is not ready to campaign for Britain to join the euro because he is worried that people are not sure whether we should remain in the European Union, it has been admitted by Helen Liddell, the minister for competitiveness in Europe.

Tony Blair is not ready to campaign for Britain to join the euro because he is worried that people are not sure whether we should remain in the European Union, it has been admitted by Helen Liddell, the minister for competitiveness in Europe.

Ms Liddell, who is believed to be one of the staunchest proponents of joining the euro in Government, told an audience of pro-euro business leaders: "We cannot have a debate about membership of the single currency before have the debate about why we are members of the European Union."

Her comments - to a meeting sponsored by the pro-euro think-tank, the Centre for European Reform - signal the Government's nervousness over the euro and suggest that Gordon Brown's "wait and see" attitude has won the day over the more europhile views of Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and Stephen Byers, Ms Liddell's boss at the DTI.

Ms Liddell said she has detected an increase in euro-scepticism over the last couple of years. "It is not wise to go into the debate about the euro at the moment because it would be a debate on a false premise," she said.

The minister pointed to "ludicrous suggestions" that Britain would be better leaving the EU and joining the North American Free Trade Alliance (Nafta), an economic grouping that includes the United States, Canada and Mexico.

This idea was floated by William Hague and other Conservative politicians a few months ago. While people were thinking that way, it would be hard to focus on the concept of becoming closer to Europe economically.

Ms Liddell argued that part of the problem was the anti-euro spin being delivered by large parts of the media, an attitude she did not think was about to change.

"It is extremely naïve to suggest that, if the Prime Minister said we should join the single currency a week next Wednesday, then The Sun, The Times, The Telegraph and various media proprietors would fall into line," she said, going on to argue that the way to push a more European agenda was to use the tactic that helped Labour win power in 1997 - avoiding the national news-papers and pushing stories in the regional press, on TV and on radio.

Ms Liddell, herself, has been a victim of the anti-euro spin, after there was a row about her comments to a German newspaper suggesting that Britain would join the euro sooner than had been expected. She claimed this was a mistranslation from English to German and then back to English, and that what she meant to say was that once Britain had decided to join, it would be admitted to the single currency more quickly than had been anticipated.

Gordon Brown's stated policy is that the UK should look to join the euro after the next election. Although this policy is largely accepted among ministers, there have been fierce divisions on how strongly the Government should promote joining the euro at this point.

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