Brown rejects Tory claims of euro rift

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Gordon Brown shrugged off Conservative suggestions of a Cabinet rift over the single currency yesterday, insisting that the Government's policy would not change until the next general election.

Gordon Brown shrugged off Conservative suggestions of a Cabinet rift over the single currency yesterday, insisting that the Government's policy would not change until the next general election.

The Chancellor fought off a stinging personal attack by Michael Portillo, who attributed remarks that Mr Brown was "neuralgic" over the issue to Peter Mandelson, his arch-rival.

Mr Brown said during question time that the Tories had "not got past first base" on whether they opposed or supported the European single currency in principle.

"The Government's euro entry policy has not changed and will not change," he said. "Sooner or later you will not only have to answer questions about £16bn of spending cuts, you'll have to answer questions about the euro.

"Are you for or against the euro in principle? We have made our decision, we are for the euro in principle where the benefits in trade, investment and jobs are shown.

"You have not got past first base on this issue: do you oppose the euro in principle or do you support it, yes or no?"

Mr Brown added that he had set out five economic tests which the Treasury would look at again soon after the next general election.

But Mr Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, said: "Do you believe that these tests, which are merely matters of opinion, can be taken seriously by anybody?

"They are just means of allowing you to stall now so that if Labour wins the election you can take an arbitrary and ideological decision to scrap the pound," he said, adding that it was "disgraceful" that Mr Brown did not answer questions on the economic tests.

"I would have thought you would have more intellectual self-respect. You seem determined today to deny the British people a proper debate on this.

"I don't often agree with Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson but he was absolutely right to describe you on this subject as 'neuralgic'."

Mr Brown replied that the crucial questions concerned whether to support the euro, possible constitutional obstacles, whether the economic tests mattered and whether to use a referendum. "These are four questions that not one of the Conservative frontbench can now answer," he said.

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