A message for Mr Blair: Tackle the issues head-on

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Not that long ago, when the polls were suggesting that the Danes might still vote in favour of joining the euro, a counter-intuitive analysis emerged from among those close to William Hague. It was that a "yes" vote would actually be better for the Tories than for Labour.

Not that long ago, when the polls were suggesting that the Danes might still vote in favour of joining the euro, a counter-intuitive analysis emerged from among those close to William Hague. It was that a "yes" vote would actually be better for the Tories than for Labour.

It would encourage the most pro-European members of the Cabinet to come out more strongly in favour of the single currency, giving rise to more splits between themselves and Gordon Brown, who has long wanted to keep debate on the issue to a minimum in the general election.

And it might prompt Tony Blair himself to be more publicly positive about the single currency. All of which would help to lend more product differentiation to the Tories' pledge not to join the single currency in the lifetime of the next Parliament.

If that were true, Labour election planners should be secretly relieved that the Danes have voted "no". Unfortunately for them, it isn't.The vote will strengthen the Tories' determination to exploit the unpopularity of British entry to the full.

It demonstrates that wanting to be in the EU but not in the euro is not an eccentricity found only in Britain. And the consequences for Europe at large could make it somewhat harder to win the case for entry.

One reason is that it is likely to fuel calls for a two-speed Europe, in which the eurozone becomes a more cohesive inner core, probably not a tax-harmonising one, but perhaps with more budgetary co-ordination.

If the Danes had voted "yes", followed next year by the Swedes, that would have been a much harder to sustain. As it happens there are grave doubts about whether there is a majority within the EU for such an approach.

But the mere debate may make it easier for Eurosceptics to claim that euro entry will mean joining up to something bigger than a single currency.

The Danish result cannot therefore be shrugged off by pro-Europeans. That said, its long-term impact may be a great deal less than the Tories will claim at their conference next week.

As the Foreign Policy Centre pointed out yesterday, the timing of the Danish referendum could hardly have been less auspicious for a "yes" vote.

For domestic reasons the Danish government is lower on trust than Britain's. The slump in the euro's value against the dollar made it an extremely uninviting prospect.

And the fact that the krone was already pegged to the euro made the economic arguments much weaker than they should be here if the euro is notably stronger by the time British ministers are considering a referendum.

There are, of course, real lessons in this vote. A pro-European campaign will have to tackle the political arguments head-on, rather than sustaining the deception that euro-entry does not mean any pooling of sovereignty. It will be a matter of arguing that Britain will be affected by the eurozone whether or not it is a member, and must therefore maximise its influence.

And this is a much stronger argument in Britain than in Denmark, which as one of the EU's smallest countries would not greatly have enhanced its influence by going in. Britain, by contrast, would automatically become a central player.

The result could even help Labour by emboldening the hardline Tory Europhobes, as the Danish "no" vote on Maastricht did in 1993. If it encourages those who want to leave the EU altogether, that might prove a bridge too far for a British public which still, however sullenly, sees its future in the EU.

The reality is that the size of Tony Blair's majority, the strength of the euro, and the extent to which inward investors threaten to pull out if Britain stays outside, are all much more important variables than the Danish result, which will be two years old by the time a British referendum looms. Worcester woman and Mondeo man would not have suddenly backed entry because the Danes did. And neither will they be stopped because they didn't.

Comments