Clarke in warning to Euro-sceptics

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, yesterday confidently predicted that there would be no more "salami slicing" of the government's European policy and that his assent to a single currency referendum pledge would be the last concession to the Euro-sceptics before the general election.

Mr Clarke's clear warning to the party's Euro-sceptics came after the Cabinet agreed to promise in the Tory manifesto that a Tory Cabinet would not enter a single currency in the next Parliament without putting it to the British people in a referendum.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday announced the Cabinet's long awaited decision to promise a referendum and confirmed that it would only take place if the Cabinet had already decided to join EMU, that it would be put first to Parliament, and that if it happened Cabinet members would have to campaign for a yes vote or resign.

Mr Clarke did not deny that he might have resigned had he not secured the conditions under which the referendum pledge was announced and took public comfort from the fact that the decision demonstrated the government was still "contemplating" the possibility of a going into the single currency in the next Parliament.

While some Euro-sceptics immediately greeted the decision as meaning there was little or no chance of entering a single currency in the next Parliament, Mr Rifkind underlined Mr Clarke's point by firmly repeating that there was no chance of the Government ruling out EMU membership in the next Parliament.

And in a sign that a prolonged referendum campaign could start almost immediately, the all -party European Movement insisted they would win the arguments as they had done in the 1975 poll on whether Britain had been right to join the Community.

At a hastily convened news conference held within hours of the announcement of the Cabinet's decision on a referendum, the Movement declared: "If it's right, we'll fight."

Chairman Giles Radice, a Labour MP, said: "We have nothing to fear from a referendum. It will only happen if the timing and the terms are right and in those circumstances we believe the British people will recognise the benefits."

Mr Clarke was unrepentant about his opposition to a referendum, but added: "I have not changed my well-known views on referenda."

He said Parliament had taken "more important decisions than this without them being referred to a referendum".

But he supported the decision to hold a referendum in these particular circumstances because the Government would have no mandate for entering a single currency after the general election.

He stressed: "I do not think the referendum should play a part in the ordinary political process of this country."

Pressed on whether he had considered resigning, Mr Clarke said: "This is a collective decision on which we have all agreed and there is certainly no dissent." He said the move endorsed the only "sensible policy" for the Government.

"We can conceive of circumstances where it would be in our national interest to join a single currency. We can conceive of circumstances where it might not. That's an open question and it could go either way

Mr Rifkind said the wording of the referendum would be a "simple neutral question" and a simple majority of those voting would be taken as confirmation of Parliament's decision.

Leading article, page 20

Andrew Marr, page 21