Blair warns that Britain cannot 'hide' from the euro

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<div class="floatbox"><div class="linkbox"><p class="linkindent"><b class="red">Internal links</b></p><p class="linkindent"><a href="">Euro's slow start in Italy blamed on Berlusconi</a></p><p class="linkindent"><a href="">Blair aims to calm tensions over Kashmir</a></p></div></div> Tony Blair delivered his strongest personal vote of confidence yet in the European single currency yesterday.</p>Speaking only two days after the introduction of euro notes and coins, the Prime Minister argued that the circulation of the new currency in 12 EU states underlined the case for its adoption by Britain. He said: "Of course the euro is now a reality, so I think the idea that we can run away from it or hide our head in the sand and pretend it does not exist would be very foolish. We've got to prepare for it."</p>Mr Blair's comments echo the pro-euro enthusiasm of Peter Hain, the minister for Europe, who triggered controversy earlier this week when he suggested British membership of the single currency was inevitable. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, tried to play down Mr Hain's remarks.</p>Yesterday the Prime Minister insisted the Government's position â“ that it would only recommend membership if Britain passed five economic tests and that the public would have the final say in a referendum â“ had not changed.</p>But his remarks, made as he began a tour of south Asia, will delight pro-single currency campaigners as a clear signal the Government is heading towards an early vote on joining.</p>His first verdict on the arrival of the new money across the EU will also fuel fears among Eurosceptics that he is trying to bounce the country into scrapping the pound.</p>Mr Blair said: "I think the important thing to recognise is that for 12 out of 15 European Union countries it's now there. It's the currency; people are using it for their daily lives."</p>Asked why the Government backed membership in principle, he answered: "The fact that you have got the rest of Europe in the single market, that [it] is using the single currency, the potential for stability. But there has to be the economic convergence to make the single currency work for Britain."</p>His comments marked the first time Mr Blair had cited the simple existence of the euro as an argument for British membership. They came as ministers prepare to make the case for the single currency more forcefully by pointing to the potential benefit for jobs and investment.</p>Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, is now widely expected to assess the case for joining the new currency well before the Government's self-imposed June 2003 deadline, despite his own caution on the issue.</p>Mr Blair gave no hint about the possible date of a referendum, but his remarks were immediately seized on by Michael Howard, the shadow Chancellor, who challenged Mr Blair to name the day. "If the Government thinks Britain should join, it should set a date for a referendum and get on with it. If it does not, it should stop talking about it and concentrate on the crisis in our public services."</p>The former prime minister John Major said he did not believe a referendum would be held in this parliament, and predicted 2009 was a more realistic date.</p>In Frankfurt, Wim Duisenberg, president of the European Central Bank, said the currency's introduction was an unqualified success. He also played down reports of price increases introduced during the changeover, saying competition would force people to round down. </p>