Don't close options on euro, CBI chief warns Tories

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The Independent Online

The head of the CBI criticised William Hague yesterday for ruling out membership of the euro in the next Parliament, suggesting the Tories will not get the business vote at the next election.

The head of the CBI criticised William Hague yesterday for ruling out membership of the euro in the next Parliament, suggesting the Tories will not get the business vote at the next election.

Digby Jones, the Confederation of British Industry's director general, said: "I have never met a businessman who closes his options. Any party that says we will not do something is making a mistake. To rule out membership of the single currency is not where business wants to be." Mr Jones also warned that the UK was likely to see more inward investors following Honda's lead of cancelling projects because of the weak euro and Britain's "prevarication" over entering the single currency. He said that recent figures showing record levels of inward investment were the result of boardroom decisions taken two years ago. "It is a very brave man who would bet on the next survey in two years time being as favourable."

In an interview with The Independent, ahead of the CBI's national conference next week in Birmingham, Mr Jones took a long pause when asked whether the Tories were electable. "There are parts of their manifesto that business would find very attractive like Michael Portillo's latest proposals on tax." The shadow Chancellor will address the conference next week as will two cabinet ministers, chancellor Gordon Brown and Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for trade and industry, three junior ministers and the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Eddie George.

Mr Jones said he would vote against Britain joining the euro if there was a referendum tomorrow, "because at 3.4 Deutschmarks to the pound the exchange rate would kill British business. But if you asked: 'Would I vote today to empower a government to go in when the conditions were right?' yes I would".

The CBI now believes that Britain could enter the single currency at a rate of DM2.90 to DM3. But Mr Jones said the rate could be even higher because of the way industry was improving its productivity. "I don't know but I would guess in a year's time industry might be saying DM3.10.

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