Parliament: We will pool sovereignty, declares Blair

PM'S QUESTIONS
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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR provoked fierce Tory attacks yesterday when he said that Britain would eventually "pool its national sovereignty" with other member states of the European Union.

The Prime Minister stressed during question time that such further integration could be in the "national interests, in the interests of our jobs and our industry and our investment. In the modern world, as we move closer together, there will be a pooling of national sovereignty," he said.

The Tories seized on the comment and Francis Maude, the Shadow Chancellor, later asked: "What did he mean? Did he mean scrapping the pound? Did he mean letting Brussels set out taxes? Did he mean running our economy in the interests of Europe?" During the exchanges, William Hague accused Mr Blair of being "too scared" to make the case for his policy on the euro and "too arrogant" to listen.

Buoyed by his party's successes in the European elections, the Tory leader repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister to "listen to the voters of this country. They don't want their Government to be committed in principle to abolishing their currency," he said.

Replying, Mr Blair insisted that the Tory policy "to rule it out for 10 years, arbitrarily, is the wrong policy. The truth is that you have sold the past to the Eurosceptics. They are now in charge of your party and your policy. Whatever the short-term gain it is a long-term disaster for you and the country," he said.

Mr Hague responded: "It's become very evident in recent weeks that on these vital issues you are too scared to make your case and too arrogant to listen."

But the Prime Minister warned him it would be a mistake to leave Britain at the margins of Europe. "When over 50 per cent of our trade is with Europe, when there are millions of British jobs that depend on Europe, then leaving Europe, which is what a large part of your party now want to do, or going so far to the margins of influence that we have no strength or power in Europe, is a mistake. I will not follow you down that path."

During a later exchange, Tony Benn, the Labour MP for Chesterfield, said it was "offensive and wholly inaccurate" to suggest that everyone opposed to the single currency was Eurosceptic.

"Quite apart from what the Conservative Party do, which is a matter for them, are you aware there are millions of people in this country who are passionately in favour of European co-operation... but who believe that the democratic control of our economy is a national interest?"

Mr Blair said his was "an entirely principled position - it is opposition to a single currency full-stop, for good, for ever". There were two "principled positions", Mr Benn's or the Government's, Mr Blair said. The Tory position was "a nonsense".

t Leading anti-euro organisations will step up their campaign after the election results and stage a one-day national conference on Britain's future in Europe without the euro next week.

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