New Tory think-tank to study single currency

Pro-Europeans start fightback in party's intellectual argument with £40 ,000 investigation
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The Independent Online
A prestigious new think-tank backed by Kenneth Clarke and other leading pro-European Tories will raise the profile of the single currency issue this month by launching a study into the economic case for monetary union.

Plans for the new Action Centre for Europe, which has Lord Whitelaw as its patron and a number of top business, City and political figures at its head, are well advanced with more than enough funding to embark on £40,000 study.

The advisory council of the Centre, which marks a new fightback in the intellectual argument over Europe within the Tory party, is chaired by Lord Howe, the former deputy prime minister. It is expected to include, besides the Chancellor of the Exchequer,David Hunt, the public services minister, Lord Kingsdown, a former Bank of England chairman, Sir Nicholas Goodison, chairman of TSB, and Sir Allan Shepherd, chairman of Grand Metropolitan Hotels.

The single currency study, the existence of which will be made public on 19 January, is expected to be completed by the end of June. While it will not take a formal position in favour or against Britain joining a single currency, it will provide a dispassionate assessment of the economic issues underlying moves towards monetary union. The move is closely in line with recent calls by pro-European ministers for a widening debate, involving the business community as well as politicians, on the possible economic advantages of monetary union which goes beyond the narrow parliamentary argument over the possible constitutional issues raised by British membership of a single currency.

The Centre, which is being organised by Michael Welsh, the former Tory MEP for Lancashire Central, has already raised £80,000-£100,000 from a number of key British companies, including Grand Metropolitan, Glaxo, Salomon Brothers, Hambro's and the Anderson consultancy.

Its report, expected to be the first of a continuing series on key European and economic issues, will be intended to provide an objective account of the arguments for and against a single currency that is intelligible to the interested layman.

The stance of the think-tank is strongly free market; its main protagonists, for example, are almost all opposed to the European social chapter and it already has the support of 38 backbench Tory MPs without a serious effort having been made to canvass parliamentary backers. However, supporters also include two former MPs who are Liberal Democrats, Sir Ian Wrigglesworth and Dick Taverne.

Mr Clarke's backing for the project, which is said to have been whole-hearted, will alarm Tory right-wingers, especially since some Tories believe the new Centre could become as important a source of argument and ideas to the pro-European centre-left of the Tory party as the Centre for Policy Studies was to Thatcherites before and after the 1979 general election.