Intervening to prop up pound is 'recipe for failure', says Brown

PM expected to admit today that he should have been tougher with 'freewheeling bankers'

Gordon Brown has indicated that he will not intervene to prevent the pound sinking still further against the dollar, the euro and other major currencies.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister suggested that the fate of sterling was a matter for the markets alone: "We do not target our exchange rate." That, he added, would be a "recipe for failure", as it had been when governments tried to "shadow the Deutschmark" and joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Mr Brown's comments seem certain to push sterling lower, and may see it hit parity with the euro.

At the same time, Caroline Flint, the Europe minister, appeared to rule out British entry into the single currency, even in the long term. She told The Independent on Sunday: "We are prepared to look at the issues around the euro. This doesn't mean, in principle, that we think we have a journey to the euro. It's about whether it would work for the British economy." Her remarks appeared to be at odds with the position of the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, who he said this month that joining the euro remained a long-term policy objective.

Mr Brown will today take some responsibility for failing to get tough with freewheeling banks when he was Chancellor – but he will stop short of a full apology for his role in the recession. "We're toughening up the regulatory system," he will tell BBC1's Politics Show, a move No 10 hopes will tackle claims that he refuses to accept any blame for Britain's plight. "That is an acceptance that it wasn't strong enough to meet what was, effectively... a global financial freezing up."

Market fears centre on the scale of the Government's debts now being piled up, and the possibility that the Treasury will have to take on trillions of pounds-worth of liabilities if the banking system continues to falter. Many liabilities are in foreign currency and large in relation to the UK's GDP, prompting comparison with Iceland, which in effect went bust because of its overextended banks. Economist Willem Buiter has joked about London becoming "Reykjavik-on-Thames".

There are also worries about the state of the economy, and the accumulating bad debts that will accumulate as the UK enters its worst recession in 60 years. The IMF last week forecast that the British economy would shrink by 2.8 per cent in 2009, its worst showing since the Second World War, although Bank of England and Treasury officials seem relaxed about the decline of the pound, in the hope this will boost exports, although there is little evidence of that so far.

Showing considerable irritation about remarks from international investors such as Jim Rogers, who have sold sterling and declared the UK "finished", the Prime Minister said: "We are not going to build our policies around self-interested speculators."

Mr Rogers said recently that he has sold all his sterling assets. And on Tuesday, the billionaire investor George Soros, who "broke the Bank of England" during the 1992 ERM crisis, said he too had been selling, sterling over the past 12 months: "Sterling did fall from around $2 to about $1.40 and at that level the risk-reward balance is no longer compelling. I'm not saying it won't fall any more though – it will continue to fluctuate." Against a basket of currencies, the pound has lost about a third of its value in a year.

There are also concerns in some European circles that the British Government is using the hefty depreciation in the pound against the euro as a sort of stealth protectionism. Mr Brown and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel have warned in Davos about the "retreat to protectionism".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee