Politics: Britain will join euro soon after election, opinion leaders predict

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The Independent Online
A referendum on the single European currency will be held soon after the next election, and the British people will vote to join - that is the prediction of a panel of opinion-formers interviewed for The Independent. John Rentoul has the results of our exclusive opinion poll.

The Government seems to have achieved a decisive shift in expectations, persuading opinion leaders that it can win the battle for the hearts and minds of a sceptical electorate and join the euro within five years.

Although polls of the general public suggest that there is a two-to-one majority at present against the single currency, 67 per cent of the panel interviewed for The Independent expect a "Yes" vote when the time comes.

Only 10 per cent predict a "No" vote, with 23 per cent saying it will be too close to call.

Of our sample of opinion formers, 83 per cent think that the currency referendum will indeed take place "early in the next parliament", a plan which Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, announced last month was the Government's intention.

The opinion formers, however, think the Government will break its promise to hold a separate referendum on changing the voting system during this parliament.

Despite a manifesto commitment, more than half of our panel, 53 per cent, think it is "unlikely" that this vote will be held before the next election, with around a quarter, 26 per cent, saying it was "likely". The rest had no opinion.

The Prime Minister's refusal to commit himself to any form of proportional voting system appears to have persuaded opinion leaders that he will ditch the pledge, first made by John Smith.

Mr Blair has already been criticised for relying too heavily on referendums, but of our panel 50 per cent agree that it is "important" to have one on voting reform, while only 30 per cent of the panel disagree.

Opinion Leader Research interviewed a sample of 100 business executives, civil servants, politicians, media editors and think tank chiefs for The Independent, between 3 and 10 November.

The effect of City uncertainty over the Government's intentions, followed by the Chancellor's statement on the euro last month, has been to transform the climate of opinion.

Mr Brown's talk of the need to prepare for the switch from the pound to the euro, combined with a strong declaration of support in principle for making the change, seems to have generated a momentum which will carry public opinion.

The most recent MORI poll of the general public found last month they intended to vote against joining the single currency by a 54 per cent to 27 per cent majority, with 19 per cent undecided. This was unchanged since the election, but slightly less hostile than towards the end of last year.

The Independent's panel holds dramatically different views: 58 per cent intend to vote "Yes" and only 17 per cent "No", with 25 per cent undecided.

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