Major and Clarke urge single currency delay

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John Major and his ex- Chancellor Kenneth Clarke yesterday abandoned the "wait and see" policy on which they fought the election and called for Europe to postpone plans for the introduction of the single currency in January 1999.

Mr Clarke was accused by Tory Euro-sceptics of holding Mr Major to ransom in the election by refusing to budge on the single currency. "If he had said this before, it could have made a difference. It will make people more angry," said one Tory MP.

But Mr Clarke's friends said he was still not ruling out Britain's entry. Mr Clarke said: "The outcome of the French election, together with Germany's unwise attempt to revalue its gold reserves, make the case for delaying EMU ever stronger.

"I have believed for several months that a delay in the start date of EMU is both desirable and inevitable. It is increasingly clear that EMU cannot proceed on a safe and sustainable basis in January 1999."

Mr Clarke's call may be seen by some Euro-sceptics as an attempt to widen his appeal in the leadership election. But he made it clear in a video released yesterday for party workers that he would not close the option of joining; to do so would be to "lurch to the right".

Mr Major echoed Mr Clarke, arguing that events had moved on since the election, and there was evidence that France and Germany could not meet the Maastricht criteria on economic convergence including debt levels.

"I believe we should now advocate delay," Mr Major said in an interview in today's Daily Telegraph. And, ditching the election policy, he said Tony Blair should not "stand idly by and permit a fudge to proceed. I believe the Government should raise this matter with our European partners at the Amsterdam summit."

Mr Major, who remains Opposition leader until a replacement is elected by Tory MPs, said weakened criteria would let in countries such as Spain and Italy to the single currency. "This would be folly. It would mean the establishment of a weak European currency."

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