Lib Dems' policy U-turn over euro entry

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The Lib Dems have made a significant break with their commitment to the European single currency, it emerged last night.

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, and the home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said it was no longer a priority to campaign for British entry into the euro. The shift in policy is surprising, as Mr Clegg and Mr Huhne, both former MEPs, have been passionate supporters of the single currency.

While the issue has been off the Government's agenda for five years, it has been at the forefront of Lib Dem policy for the past decade.

Mr Clegg told The Independent on Sunday that the debate on the euro was now "neutered". He insisted his party remained committed to Europe, but that tax and other domestic issues were now top of the agenda.

And in an interview with the IoS, Mr Huhne said: "The truth is, within the British debate, it's completely off the radar and there is simply no point in regarding it as a runner worth investing political time in."

In the past, Mr Clegg and Mr Huhne have been "near messianic" about the single currency, say friends. But addressing his party conference in Bournemouth last night, Mr Clegg attacked the "broken politics" of Westminster, which he said was a home to "a political class sheltered from reality and shielded from an increasingly alienated society".

Mr Huhne also told the IoS that Mr Clegg would not become a household name until after the next election, saying the leader needed to "go through an election to become a real figure in the front rooms of the country".

The remark will cast a shadow over Mr Clegg's attempts to survive his first autumn conference without questions over his leadership. It underlines concerns by some in the party at his failure to make an impact. Last week, Mr Clegg admitted that voters were "still getting to know me".

Mr Huhne refused to rule out standing for the leadership for a third time. Asked if he has given up hope of becoming leader, he said only: "There is absolutely no vacancy."

Mr Huhne also set out conditions for the Lib Dems working with a minority Tory or Labour government in a hung parliament.