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Off with her head, says Europe; ... but one still has one's uses

A DECISION by European Central Bank bank chiefs to prevent the Queen's head appearing on euro notes if Britain joins the single currency prompted a political row last night.

The decision overturns the wishes of European Union governments to keep a space for national symbols on the notes, as a link with the past.

The Tories said the decision, announced by the bank's head Wim Duisenberg, would turn more Britons against the single currency. William Hague, party leader, said the announcement, was "a warning signal to the British people". The Queen's head on the currency was a "powerful symbol of our independence and our ability to make decisions in our own national interest".

Ministers blamed the previous Tory government for failing to ensure that informal assurances that the the Queen's head would stay on notes were written into the Maastricht Treaty.

The Queen herself is on tour in Malaysia; she spent yesterday touring shops in downtown Kuala Lumpur and meeting local children. To the delight of one schoolboy, she autographed a football emblazoned with the logo of Manchester United, something unlikely to endear her to the throngs of United-haters back home.

The Treasury said the Government had "reserved Britain's position" over its right to include the Queen's head on notes issued in this country, but conceded the final decision was a matter for the new bank.

Mr Duisenberg told Euro MPs the bank had overruled the wishes of governments and decided "there will be no national feature on the euro banknotes", in contrast with euro coins, which countries will be able to mint according to their own designs.

Fears about fraud and confusion among users are believed to have been the reasons for the decision. Euro notes will instead feature pictures of the continent's architecture on one side and the European flag on the other.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, will urge the bank to think again on the grounds that it has a duty to take account of the views of member states. Ministers were surprised by its decision, which could make it harder for them to win a referendum on the issue of British entry into the single currency.