Brown pledges to push for euro entry after his not-yet assessment

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown pledged yesterday to make the "patriotic case" and lead a government campaign to sell "the principle of the euro" after today's historic assessment on whether to join the single currency.

The Chancellor's promise to lead a pro-euro campaign, on the eve of the verdict on his long-awaited five economic tests, shows the Government believes there is a need to turn public opinion around before it can win a referendum on joining.

Mr Brown will say today that Britain is "not yet" ready to join the euro but he is expected to spell out some positive assessments of convergence between the British economy and the eurozone.

He is expected to say that since 1997, there has been notable convergence between British and eurozone economies and will try to placate pro-Europeans by publishing a national changeover plan to scrap the pound and prepare Britain for the single currency. It will include preparations to print euro notes and mint coins and to pay state benefits in euros.

Mr Brown said the assessment was a matter of "trust" based on the right decisions" and not predicated on some "political formula". While the "not yet" verdict may disappoint some pro-Europeans, Mr Brown will spell out positive features of the eurozone and set out a "forward agenda" or road-map for entry to reassure them and other EU countries that he is serious about joining.

Mr Brown is expected to set out an agenda for progress towards the euro, with items on the housing market, the exchange rate and moving towards common inflation measures. He is expected to say that he would like to see more people take out fixed-rate mortgages.

The announcement is likely to set out a "when" rather than "if" stance on joining with a draft Bill allowing the Government to call a euro referendum to send a strong signal of its intention to join.

Mr Brown admitted that today's assessment would say Britain was getting "close" to meeting the criteria for joining the euro, but was not yet ready. Asked on BBC's Breakfast with Frost whether Britain was "any closer today" than six years ago, the Chancellor replied: "That's what the statement will say tomorrow." Mr Brown also gave a personal pledge to step up efforts by the Government to sell Europe, in the face of adverse opinion polls that still show most of the public opposed to British membership. But he stopped short of saying he would campaign to sell the euro itself ­ saying that he was only in favour of it in principle at the moment.

The move follows complaints that the Government failed to meet a similar pledge in 1997 to promote the EU.

"I will be putting the patriotic case for Britain to be members of the European Union and Tony Blair and I are agreed that the time is right to unite the country around a pro-European consensus," he said. "People will see tomorrow that the detailed work that has been done by the Treasury shows many of the benefits of the single currency, and ... it is important to unite the whole of the country around a pro-European consensus for the future."

He said the Treasury's assessment of the five economic tests for membership set out in 1997 would protect "the national economic interest".

But Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, said Mr Brown's tests were "a smokescreen" and the decision would be political.

Neil Kinnock, the European Commission vice-president, warns in an interview with The Independent today of the "substantial" and growing costs of staying out of the euro. He calls for a "stairway to entry" into the single currency with neutral information being made available to the public.

The former Labour leader says he would like to see the creation of a new body made up of respected and independent experts to publish neutral information on the euro for the public. He also calls for "collective [cabinet] involvement with some people continuing to have more prominence than others by virtue of their portfolio responsibilities" ­ mentioning the pro-euro Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, by name.

"If the impression is given that the UK is going to be outside the euro for a very long time to come or even permanently ­ which is what the Conservatives want," he says, "that critically alters the potential investors' and current investors' perception of the UK."