Opposition to UK membership of the euro falls

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The Independent Online

Opposition to British membership of the euro has fallen to its lowest level for three years thanks to a sharp swing in favour of the project, a survey showed yesterday.

A third of Britons polled this month said they would vote today to join the European single currency, compared with a quarter three months ago, a survey by MORI showed.

The number voting against fell to 51 from 57 per cent. This left a balance against membership of 18 per cent, the same as January 1999 and the highest since July 1998.

When people were asked how they would vote if the Government recommended membership of the European economic and monetary union (EMU), the balance rose to minus 8 per cent.

The poll is the second this week to indicate that the successful launch of euro notes and coins on 1 January and a recent spate of favourable speeches by Cabinet ministers have begun to change voters' opinions. On Thursday a poll by NOP that asked people how they would vote if the Government said the five economic tests were passed and that it recommended joining, 40 per cent said yes compared with 39 per cent against.

Schroder Salomon Smith Barney (SSSB), the investment bank, said the ministerial speeches had created a feeling that membership was inevitable. "Nevertheless we had not expected such a big rise in support for entry as the pro-EMU campaign is still only at half power," said Michael Saunders, one of its economists. He said the Government's popularity was still high while the Tories were concentrating their fire on public services rather than the euro.

"This will encourage the Government to continue to make the pro-EMU case, hoping to shift public opinion further," Mr Saunders said.

The next crucial event will be publication of the assessment of the Treasury's five economic tests for whether the UK can join, which take place before June next year.

If the Government decided they had been met, it could call a referendum on membership as soon as autumn 2003 and join EMU in 2005. SSSB said it had raised the odds of the UK joining the euro by 2005 to 45 per cent from one-in-three.