Major makes pledge to stay in Europe

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The Independent Online
Tory Euro-sceptics' hopes of a change of policy on Europe before the election were dealt a blow yesterday when John Major said he would not use any "clever dodge" to rule out Britain's entry into a single currency before polling day.

He also gave an unequivocal commitment to staying in Europe. He said: "Of course we must stay in the European Union." No "sensible" person believed otherwise, he insisted.

"Staying in the EU isn't in doubt. What we do have to determine is the nature of the EU in which we remain members and our position within it."

His remarks, which answer one of the eight key electoral questions posed by The Independent yesterday, dismayed Tory Euro-sceptics whose hopes had been raised last week by Stephen Dorrell, the first Cabinet minister to call for a renegotiation of Britain's relationship with Europe.

The Prime Minister said he would not use the Maastricht criteria for convergence between the economies before entry into the single currency as a "clever dodge" for refusing to join it.

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, is due to return to the Cabinet within the next three or four weeks with a paper exploring the basis on which the Government will judge the economic criteria "at the right time", the Prime Minister told the opening Tory election campaign press conference in London.

"I am not looking for technicalities to dodge around and change the policy," he said. "I am not looking for some clever dodge to change the policy.

"This is a decision of immense importance which is going to affect us, whether we enter the single currency or not."

One Euro-sceptic said: "This means there will be no change of policy before the general election."

The Euro-sceptics in the Cabinet, led by Michael Howard, Home Secretary, are expected to use the next Cabinet clash with Mr Clarke to mount a last-ditch demand for Britain's entry into the single currency in the first wave to be ruled out.

Some ministers said last night that there was still a chink of light left open by Mr Major to allow ministers to say in the run-up to the election that it was "unlikely" Britain would enter in the first wave.

That is unlikely to satisfy many Euro-sceptics who have already had their election addresses printed with commitments to vote against any move to enter a single currency.

Mr Major last night met Wim Kok, the Dutch Prime Minister, to discuss Britain's anxieties about the drive towards a single currency by Germany and France. Mr Major underlined British opposition to the use of the institutions to back up a stability group, which excluded some member states.

Mr Kok warned him that Europe will not allow Britain to hold up further integration in the run-up to the election.

He also attempted to discuss with Mr Major whether there were any areas of reform where Britain might be prepared to make concessions ahead of the election.

THE INDY EIGHT

QWhat will happen to taxes under Blair or Major?

Q If things go badly, would the Tories take us out of Europe?

QWill Blair back voting reform if he wins?

Q Would Labour take Britain into a single currency?

QWill the parties spend more on schools - and who loses?

QWould Ashdown keep Blair in power without PR?

QCan Labour match the Tory pledge on NHS cash?

QWhat do the parties mean by radical reform of welfare?

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