Continentals look forward to a clearing of the air

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The Independent Online
Labour's decision to hold a referendum before any decision to join the single currency is likely to be welcomed in many continental capitals, where governments have become increasingly irritated by British anti-European attacks.

European diplomats said that perhaps a referendum in Britain might allow a healthier debate on the issue and clear the air once and for all, so that Britain could play a more positive role. In Brussels the announcement caused little surprise, and officials said it had long been expected that whichever party won the election would probably call a referendum on the issue. Commission officials said that it was up to each member-state individually to choose what constitutional means it wanted to invoke when a decision to join is made. "Britain won its right to opt out. It is now up to them to decide separately whether they want to participate and the way they choose to do so is up to them," said a Commission spokesman.

Neil Kinnock, the European Transport Commissioner, recently advised Tony Blair against opting for a referendum on the single issue of monetary union. In an interview he said a referendum on specific European issues would be "perilous" for Mr Blair.