Labour could enter the single currency by 2002, Cook says

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The Independent Online
The strongest hint so far that a Labour government could give the go- ahead to Britain's entry into a single European currency within the lifetime of the next Parliament came yesterday from Robin Cook, one of the leading sceptics in the Shadow Cabinet.

The shadow Foreign Secretary's remarks, raising the prospect of Britain's possible entry by 2002, were privately welcomed by those close to Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, and will put pressure on the Government to use Europe as an election issue, in spite of the open divisions in its ranks. The chances of a single currency happening by 1999 were "50-50", Mr Cook said on LWT's Dimbleby programme.

"I think in the short run you can certainly hold the position of being outside the single currency, and after all probably half of the countries of the European Union are going to be outside any first wave - even if that wave does start in 1999 which is doubtful.

"In the long run, if we are outside a single currency, people in Tokyo, people in Dallas making inward investment decisions are more likely to look at the inner core within the currency rather than those outside and that was what Toyota was warning about this week."

Pressed on what he meant by the "long run", he continued: "I said if it goes ahead and if it succeeds, in other words if it is stable, then you cannot stay out."

Asked how long would it take to make that judgement, Mr Cook went on: "I think that is a period which you don't have to prescribe in advance but there is one milestone along the way, which is 2002 when you enter the retail phase. I think it would take a very sober and serious calculation to stay out beyond 2002."

He coupled his remarks on the single currency with the prospect of a Labour government using a more positive approach to Europe to slow the pace of political integration.

"What is required if you want to provide any different kind of vision for the future of Europe is for Britain to be taken seriously as a full player and possibly someone who could possibly articulate and lead the other member states," he said.

"France and Germany are not the only country in the European Union. If there are proposals which are emerging from France and Germany which are unacceptable or damaging to the people of Britain - we have yet to see what those might be - there is not a necessary majority for them of France and Germany alone."

Mr Major has has been persuaded by the Tories' advertising agency to launch today a poster attack on Labour over the Social Chapter in spite of Tory splits. Party officials said it had the backing of the entire Cabinet, including Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor. Tomorrow Mr Major will echo the attack in a keynote speech in Belgium

It could give Labour some difficulties today with the start of the Wirral South by-election campaign, although the splits in the Tory party resurfaced as Sir George Gardiner, the leading Euro-sceptic Tory backbench MP who was deselected from his seat in Reigate, announced he would fight for reinstatement.

Sir George, who is threatening legal action, denied he would stand as an independent, saying he expected to be "the official Conservative candidate".