Blair admits he will not achieve aim of taking Britain into euro

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Tony Blair has conceded that he is unlikely to fulfil his personal ambition of taking Britain into the euro before he stands down as Prime Minister.

Tony Blair has conceded that he is unlikely to fulfil his personal ambition of taking Britain into the euro before he stands down as Prime Minister.

Launching Labour's manifesto for business yesterday, Mr Blair said joining now was not in our economic interest, adding: "It's not likely in the very near future that that is going to change dramatically."

By hinting that the climate for euro entry was unlikely to change in the next few years, Mr Blair signalled that he would not achieve a central goal he had when he came to power in 1997. If he wins the election, he hopes to serve three and a half years as Prime Minister and stand down before the following election.

Gordon Brown, the clear front-runner to succeed Mr Blair, is even more cool about the prospects of British entry, so it looks unlikely to be on the agenda for several years.

Mr Blair insisted Britain was already "at the centre of Europe" and exercising strong leadership on the key questions. But his hopes of securing a pro-European legacy now rest on winning a difficult referendum on the proposed EU constitution planned for next spring. That could be shelved if France rejects the constitution in its referendum next month.

On the euro, Mr Blair said yesterday: "It is an economic test. If it's not good for the economy, you don't do it. It's an economic and monetary union. I have always said politically the case for going in is strong. Economically, you have got to meet the tests. Otherwise you could do damage to your economy.

He added: "Business certainly doesn't want to close off the option. But on the other hand, I cannot say there are many businessmen knocking on my door and saying, 'Go in now'. The sensible position we have is to say leave the option open, apply the economic tests and what's in the British national economic interest."

In its pitch for the business vote, Labour played up its reputation for delivering economic stability but refused to rule out further rises in taxes on business if it wins a third term. Mr Brown said: "What I won't do, because stability must come first, is to go through every single tax and give promises on each and every one of them. We must get the balance right between tax, investment and economic stability."

The 28-page manifesto promised a manufacturing skills academy to help thousands of firms over five years and to increase the apprenticeships by 50,000 to 300,000 by 2008.

Labour said it had replaced the Tories as the party of enterprise and business. It said they were planning "devastating cuts", including £500m from the DTI business support programmes and closure of the Small Business Service.

Mr Brown said: "The reason Britain faces a choice at this election is that these two central pillars of our economic future - the platform of stability and the role of investment in our economic future - would be put at risk by the Conservative plan to cut £35bn from public investments."