EU poll backs Major view as seats tumble

Voters split on single currency
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John Major's strategy of leaving open the issue of a single currency has been vindicated by confidential new poll findings which show that voters are in two minds about European monetary union.

The research shows that while 71 per cent would vote against joining monetary union in a referendum now, 69 per cent would consider the possibility of joining later if the issue were left open.

The poll will bring some comfort to the Tory high command in the wake of last night's heavy losses in the local elections. It shows a large majority of voters want to retain the possibility of joining a single currency some time in the future.

The unpublished poll for the European Commission shows that 71 per cent would vote against joining monetary union in a referendum - a markedly higher figure than the 58 per cent recorded in a MORI poll for the Sun newspaper earlier this week.

The findings, which are now circulating in Whitehall, help to explain the confidence with which the Prime Minister said on Monday that a referendum would vote against a single currency if it were held today.

But pro-Europeans will take considerably more comfort from the surprise finding that more than two-thirds answer "yes" to the question of whether a "decision should be left open with the possibility of joining later".

The finding that 69 per cent - compared with 56 per cent last June - of electors want the option kept open will be seen as suggesting that a referendum on a government proposal to join a single currency could still be winnable - particularly if the decision was taken to join as part of a "second wave" once European monetary union has been in operation for a period.

A number of ministers, including Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, have been arguing in private that Britain is much likelier to join a single currency in the second wave and it would be more desirable for it to do so, if it joins at all.

The poll also shows that British electors are remarkably unsentimental about the issue of whether the Queen's head should on one side of the planned euro notes and coins if the UK joins a single currency. While 13 per cent say it would make them more favourably inclined towards a single currency and 5 per cent less so, 82 per cent say it would make no difference.

The unexpectedly deep vein of hostility will encourage Euro-sceptics who have been stepping up the pressure on Mr Major over the past few weeks, culminating in a strong hint that members of the right-wing 92 Group will include personal commitments not to support a single currency in their election addresses.

But it also shows that Mr Major's determination not to yield to pressure and rule out a single currency has equally enthusiastic support from voters, which comes as a fillip after a miserable local election campaign which has been overshadowed by the party's divisions over Europe.

It also suggests that in the longer term the issue of a single currency may more open than many Euro-sceptics would hope. It also comes amid signs that senior pro-Europeans in the party are to adopt a more robust line in pressing their arguments against the Euro-phobe wing in the party. That was signalled last weekend when Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, urged pro-Europeans not to hold back in arguing their corner.

Meanwhile, in a move which may irritate Euro-sceptics, Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor has appointed as a special adviser Anthony Teasdale, former special adviser to Lord Howe when he was Foreign Secretary.Mr Teasdale, who was more recently head of the Tory MEPs' London office, and then the MEPs' senior politicial adviser in Europe, is a strong pro-European.

A new poll for the European newspaper shows that opposition to a single European currency is rising in Germany, as well as in Britain, despite Chancellor Helmut Kohl's eagerness for the project.

Some 52 per cent of voters in Germany are now against the idea, up from 50 per cent two years ago, even though Bonn is one of the scheme's keenest supporters.

Support for the scheme has fallen from 45 per cent to 40 per cent, and the lead for the "No" vote in Germany is now 12 points, up seven points since 1994, according to the MORI poll. Britons are still showing the greatest resistance to the idea, however.

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