Brown strikes a positive note on joining the euro

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown pledged to build a "pro-European consensus" in Britain yesterday as he sought to play down reports of a rift with Tony Blair over the single currency.

The Chancellor hinted at his support for eventual euro membership by saying: "I believe that this pro-European consensus can widen and deepen in the times to come."

His remarks will increase speculation that the "not yet" verdict on euro membership, which he is expected to deliver next month, will be accompanied by positive noises about the Government's intention to join in the future.

Mr Brown was speaking at the opening of a new terminal at Rosyth exactly a year after the first ferry link was established between Scotland and the Continent, which the Chancellor said was a symbol of European unity.

"We wish to build for the future, engaged and leading in Europe," he said. "Sixty-five per cent of Scottish exports go to the EU. More than half of Britain's trade is with Europe.

"So it is not simply for reasons of history and geography, but for good economic sense to build a strong pro-European consensus in Britain. A British consensus that the new enlarged Europe, pursuing economic reform, is in the British national economic interest; a British consensus that the new enlarged Europe, building stronger trading relationships with the rest of the world, not least the USA, is in the British national economic interest; and a British consensus that the test for membership of the euro should be the national economic interest based upon the five economic tests," the Chancellor said.

The Government will come under pressure tomorrow to move more quickly towards euro membership. John Monks, the outgoing general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, will tell GMTV's Sunday programme that Mr Brown should not act like a "bank manager" but show "bold leadership".

Lord Hattersley, the former deputy leader of Labour, said the Government should have joined the euro at its launch. He told the National Association of Pensions Funds' annual conference in Glasgow: "There are economic decisions and political decisions which we cannot influence sufficiently unless we're at the heart of Europe and being at the heart of Europe requires us to be part of a single currency."

John Major, the former prime minister, challenged Mr Blair to call a euro referendum before the next general election. He said he was sure the referendum would produce a vote against the euro. But he took a different line to Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, who argues that Britain should never join. Mr Major said he believed Britain would join one day even though the economic conditions were not yet right. "I am not a fundamentalist who would say we would never join. I suspect one day we will."

Mr Major also called for a referendum on the new European Union constitution being drawn up by a convention headed by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president.

¿ The Rail, Maritime and Transport union will consider demands for a further cut in its financial support for the Labour Party at its annual conference next month. Last year it reduced its payments from £150,000 to £25,000 a year.