Blair orders Labour MPs to sell benefits of euro membership

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair ordered Labour MPs to "sell" the benefits of joining the euro to a sceptical British public yesterday and he accused the Tories of wanting to pull Britain out of the European Union.

The Prime Minister is preparing to portray the choice facing the country as either joining the euro to become a "full member" of the EU, or withdrawing from Europe completely. The Tories angrily dismiss this as a "false choice".

Labour sought to end its divisions over Europe, as Peter Mandelson apologised to the Chancellor Gordon Brown for remarks at a lunch that he had outmanoeuvred Mr Blair on the euro because he was obsessed with politics. At a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) addressed by Mr Blair and Mr Brown, Mr Mandelson said: "I welcome Monday's statement [by Mr Brown]. It provides a real basis round which we can all campaign. That includes those of us whose lunchtime remarks have been magnified and distorted - for which I would like to apologise to Gordon."

In turn, Mr Brown mended his fences with the Britain In Europe group, whose tactics he has criticised in the past. He held talks with the organisation's board at 11 Downing Street, at which he was said to have been "enthusiastic" about the prospect of joining the single currency.

Mr Blair told the PLP meeting that MPs should spell out the potential benefits of the euro as well as campaigning on the general issue of Europe. Until this week, MPs had been told to stick to the "five tests" formula on the euro without highlighting the advantages.

In the Commons, Mr Blair clashed with Iain Duncan Smith after claiming that the "true agenda" of many Tory MPs was to paralyse the EU as a first step to securing British withdrawal. "It is not patriotic, it is not in the British national interest, it is a betrayal of the British national interest," he said. At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Duncan Smith accused the Government of in effect adopting John Major's "wait and see" approach to the euro, a policy Labour derided at the time for "paralysing" the Tory government.

The Tory leader challenged Mr Blair to say whether next year's Budget would be the last chance during this parliament to trigger another assessment of the euro. He said the Prime Minister's failure to answer this meant there would be a "running commentary" on the euro all the way to the general election. "The Prime Minister's policy, by his own words, is weak and uncertain," said Mr Duncan Smith. "British business needs certainty. He has ... no credibility at all."

Mr Blair said: "We have set out why the benefits of the single currency are very clear. We have set out the obstacles remaining for British membership. We set out a way of removing those obstacles."

* An opinion poll for today's New Statesman reveals that more than one in three voters want Mr Blair to step down as Labour leader in the next 12 months. Forty-three per cent have a lower opinion of the Prime Minister than they did a year ago, while 13 per cent have a higher opinion. Only 12 per cent said Mr Blair should stay as party leader indefinitely. More than half of all voters, and more than a third of those who voted Labour at the last election, wanted him to go within two years.