Countdown To The Euro: Blair treads softly on new currency

"WE HAVE to fight back against all this nonsense," Tony Blair told one of his closest advisers as he surveyed another day of damaging headlines about how an EU-wide tax policy was going to be imposed on Britain.

According to aides, the Prime Minister recognised that his twin-track strategy of appeasing Britain's Eurosceptic newspapers while the Government adopted a pro-European policy was no longer tenable.

"He finally realised that we were not going to get anywhere in Europe unless we took on the Europhobe press," said a government source. "For him it was a very serious moment."

A referendum on whether Britain should join the single currency is still some years away, but the starting gun for the campaign will be fired on 1 January when the euro is launched by 11 other European Union countries.

The "yes" and "no" camps already exist in embryonic form and they agree that 1999 could be critical in shaping public opinion ahead of the referendum that Mr Blair is expected to call shortly after the next general election. The pace of the great debate will quicken in January when Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, publishes a national changeover plan setting out what steps Britain needs to take to prepare for euro entry.

Pro-euro businessmen and the Liberal Democrats hope Mr Blair will use the occasion to change the Government's policy to one of "not if, but when" - in effect, a declaration. Yet Mr Blair is unlikely to harden the policy of the Government, which is committed to monetary union in principle but insists the key tests on whether to join will be economic. "There will a more pro-European tone, but the policy won't change," one minister said.

Nevertheless, supporters of a single currency concede the Prime Minister is edging slowly in their direction: they welcomed his fightback against the Eurosceptic press during the recent controversy over a common EU tax policy.

Some businessmen are sceptical about the Prime Minister's keenness to take on such Eurosceptics as Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black and Lord Rothermere.

Ministers close to Mr Blair believe, however, he has crossed the Rubicon. "The Government's duty is to lead opinion, not follow it," said one.

Mr Blair knows that saying "yes" to the euro now would provoke divisions in the Cabinet and the Labour Party. He is attracted by a "slowly, slowly" strategy in which public hostility to the euro dissipates after a successful launch. Keeping his options open will allow Mr Blair to argue that opponents of the euro could safely vote Labour at the next general election, knowing they could then vote "no" in a referendum.

Another factor the Prime Minister would be considering is the elections to the European Parliament in June - a big test of public opinion. The Tories will fight strongly on European issues. William Hague needs to make big gains to bolster his position as Tory leader, and his allies believe he can unite his party around his policy of ruling out single currency membership during this Parliament and the next. The Tories should do well; the introduction of proportional representation will help them. But the key question will be whether the pro-European heavyweights, like Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, keep their heads down.

Labour will develop a "pro-Europe, but pro-reform in Europe" strategy, in the hope of preventing the Tories from painting it as a federalist party which swallows all the medicine prescribed by Brussels.

The lesson of the 1975 referendum, when the British people voted by a margin of 2-1 to stay in the then Common Market, bodes well for the "yes" campaign. The "no" camp will try to prevent the debate being turned into one about Britain's engagement in Europe.

Although the "no" campaign will probably have more money at its disposal, it may suffer from internal differences. There are more than 30 organisations in the Eurosceptic camp. A more formal structure may be set up later this year, but one participant admitted: "It will be very difficult to get everyone to work together."

In contrast, the putative "yes" campaign is applying the "command and control" strategy which served Labour so well at the last general election.

What the public makes of the great euro debate is another matter. At present, they are "switched off". But they will certainly notice the frantic activity of the next six months.

The Pros

Leaders: The all-party European Movement (Giles Radice, Labour MP); Lord Hollick, newspaper proprietor (left); Kenneth Clarke, former Tory chancellor; Peter Mandelson, former cabinet minister; Paddy Ashdown

Position: Want early declaration by the Government that it intends joining single currency

Strengths: Strong all-party base; business back-up

Weaknesses: Tony Blair reluctant to come off fence

Prospects: Will run disciplined campaign; successful euro launch would strengthen position

The Antis

Leaders: Baroness Thatcher; William Hague; European Foundation (Bill Cash, Tory MP); European Research Group (Sir Michael Spicer, Tory MP); Democracy Movement (Paul Sykes, businessman, left); Austin Mitchell (Labour MP); Business for Sterling (Lord Stirling)

Position: Divided between "never" and "not for two Parliaments" (Hague)

Strengths: Will play on people's EU doubts; backers' money

Weaknesses: Thirty-plus groups

Prospects: May be battling against tide of history

The `Not Yets'

Leaders: Lord Owen (left, former Labour foreign secretary and SDP leader); Lord Prior (former Tory cabinet "wet"); Martin Taylor (former chief executive, Barclays Bank)

Position: Britain should not join euro now, but still play a positive role in the EU

Strengths: Cannot be tarnished as anti-European; respected group of elder statesmen

Weaknesses: Difficult message to project; must avoid looking like band of yesterday's men

Prospects: May be outflanked by "yes" and "no" campaigns

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
voicesBy the man who has
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
newsFloyd 'Creeky' Creekmore still performed regularly to raise money for local hospitals
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Real Estate Solicitor 2+PQE - City

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGH VALUE REAL ESTATE / RESID...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Are you looking for part time/ ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?