Hague denounces euro 'lemmings'

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The Independent Online
William Hague, the Conservative leader, will declare war on business leaders this week, accusing almost three-quarters of them of acting like "lemmings" over the European single currency.

Tory divisions over Europe will heighten with the news, given to the Independent on Sunday, that Paul Sykes, the Yorkshire tycoon and avowed Euro-sceptic, who funded the campaigns of the party's candidates opposed to the single currency at the general election, is to set up an independent think-tank to examine the impact of EMU entry.

Mr Hague's intervention will follow the publication today of a survey of 2,000 members of the Confederation of British Industry, showing more than 70 per cent want to join monetary union "as soon as convergence is in place".

The Conservative leader will riposte with a speech at the CBI annual conference tomorrow which will underline the biggest rift between the Tories and its traditional industrial supporters in recent years.

Drafts of Mr Hague's speech confront pro-EMU sentiment, as expressed by British Airways head Sir Colin Marshall, CBI director-general Adair Turner, and Niall Fitzgerald of Unilever, head-on: "The truth is that the supporters of membership of the single currency tend to fall back on one central argument which overshadows all others.

"They say that the single currency is going to happen and we can't possibly be out of it. It is the argument used by every lemming throughout the centuries and it does not bear close scrutiny." The new strain on Mr Hague's relationship with the CBI comes ahead of an announcement at the same conference by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, that Britain will use money from the EU to launch an information campaign about the single currency. Up to pounds 2m could be available from 1998 to fund information packs on the euro.

While the CBI has found 70 per cent support for early EMU entry, Mr Sykes, who built the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield, is intending to warn ordinary people of the perils of the euro. His move will come as a blow to the Tories, who were hoping that their harder stance on the single currency might pacify him and persuade him to throw his considerable financial weight behind them. Mr Sykes said that despite his admiration for Mr Hague, a fellow Yorkshireman, he had decided to fund a new research centre which would draw on work by the best economists around the world. It would spell out in layman's terms for ordinary people the implications for Britain of joining EMU.

Mr Sykes said the economists would be asked to examine the effect on interest rates of entry, on the jobs market, and on wages. They would be asked to explore whether it was possible for countries to subscribe to a single currency without losing their economic independence.