The Prime Minister said for the first time after a meeting with the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl - at which the two leaders agreed to differ over the desirability of EMU - that "we would not win such a referendum" if the Government put a proposal for a single currency to the British people today.
But while Mr Major's perception of how far British public opinion has turned against monetary union will please Euro-sceptics, he left them in no doubt that he will steadfastly resist the new push from the Tory right to make clear that a Conservative government would not join a single currency.
Asked whether dissidents were using the perceived electoral threat posed by Sir James Goldsmith to push him further on a single currency, Mr Major declared: "I think you must ask other people what their motives are." But he added that while "many people" thought it would be "extremely convenient" to rule out EMU now, "I am not going to do it".
As Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, issued an ominous warning to the party to take the Goldsmith threat seriously, and leading members of the right-wing 92 Group again served notice that they would press for Mr Major to adopt a still more nationalistic stance on Europe, the Prime Minister promised there would be "no change in our position" of neither ruling in nor out a single currency. Despite the new outbreak of instability in a parliamentary Tory party awaiting with apprehension the results of Thursday's local elections, Mr Major rejected suggestions that a majority of candidates, according to George Gardiner, former chairman of the 92 Group, would include a pledge of opposition to the single currency in election addresses.
The Prime Minister said he did not "anticipate [that] problem arising" and repeated that he was not going to exclude Britain from the negotiations on EMU by ruling it out in advance. He added: "For a country of the size and influence of the UK to exclude itself from the most important economic debate that Britain has had for 50 years, and will have for 50 years does not seem to be in the British national interest ... there will be no change in our position on that point."
Despite their admitted disagreements about the construction of what the Chancellor called the "Common European Home" as well as the single currency, both leaders were at pains to stress the cordiality of the meeting and Chancellor Kohl, who repeatedly referred to "my friend John", offered one concession of substance in the current Inter-Governmental Conference on the future of the European Union.
Chancellor Kohl indicated that he was prepared not to bring immigration and justice issues into the ambit of European institutions during the current IGC - though he insisted that such a move, fiercely opposed by the British, would come in the next five to six years. And the two leaders agreed a new British-German-US parliamentary forum to foster understanding.
Mr Major's view that an immediate referendum would reject a single currency will be questioned by pro-Europeans-and contrasted with Chancellor Kohl's prediction that the "the majority of people who are well informed" in Germany would endorse a single currency. But it was reinforced by a MORI poll in yesterday's Sun suggesting that 58 per cent of Britons would say no.
Mr Major reminded yesterday's news conference that his policy is was to have a referendum if and when a British Conservative Cabinet decided to enter a single currency. "If that were the case then we would clearly campaign for that. If you ask me whether we would win such a referendum today, no, we would not win such a referendum today, but then there is no prospect of us joining today so the situation does not arise."
Kohl tucks into British beef
Chancellor Kohl, who makes no secret of his love of seven- or 10-course meals, yesterday savoured a dish banned in his own country - British beef.
When Mr Kohl went to Downing Street for lunch with John Major the menu included medallions of Aberdeen Angus beef. The Chancellor, in contrast with the rest of Europe but true to his reputation as a bon viveur, ploughed on regardless.
Afterwards he gave short shrift to a British reporter who asked him to declare that "British beef is safe", saying: "I ate British beef for lunch but I am not a marketing manager. You don't honestly expect me to say something like an advertising slogan?"Reuse content