Tories boycott opening of euro advisory group

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The Independent Online
GORDON BROWN dismissed the Tories as a "marginalised sect" yesterday after they boycotted the first meeting of a cross-party advisory group on preparations to join the euro.

The Chancellor condemned their decision to leave an "empty chair" at the meeting in protest at the Government's changeover plan. He also launched a fierce attack on "denying choice to the British people" by refusing to prepare to join the single currency at a later date.

"The Conservative Party has so marginalised itself that it won't even participate in the discussions about preparations... their motto is to be unprepared," he said during question time.

The advisory group, chaired by Barry Sheerman, the Labour Co-operative MP for Huddersfield, met for the first time yesterday morning to consider the practical preparations that would be necessary if Britain was to sign up to the euro.

Francis Maude, the shadow Chancellor, claimed that the national changeover plan, laying the groundwork for possible entry, was about "edging Britain ever closer to membership in an attempt to close off the option of Britain prospering outside".

As part of the Government's plans to prepare the country for possible entry, Mr Brown announced that banks, retailers and small businesses would be among those involved in working parties "doing a business examination of critical issues" involved in monetary union.

Vincent Cable, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, asked what "rational reason" the Tories had to boycott a body on which all other parties were represented.

In a later exchange, Mr Maude challenged the Chancellor over what estimate had been made of the conversion cost to business and the taxpayer of joining the euro. The Chancellor pointed out that the whole point of the changeover plan was to have a discussion of the implications of joining.

But John Bercow, the Tory MP for Buckingham, insisted the Government was trying to "drag Britain into the single currency", adding: "You do so with a cost that you won't calculate, for a benefit you cannot quantify at a risk to the British people which you dare not admit."