No point in euro campaign now, says Mandelson

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The campaign to win the public's support for joining the single currency has been shelved until after the general election, Peter Mandelson said yesterday.

The campaign to win the public's support for joining the single currency has been shelved until after the general election, Peter Mandelson said yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is seen as the Cabinet's cheerleader for the euro, told The Independent there was no point in Europhiles campaigning for joining until the Government was ready to call a referendum on the issue.

He played down Tony Blair's remark that he would vote "No" if a referendum were held now as a statement of the obvious since there was not going to be one. But his comments provide further evidence that the Government has decided to "play it long" on the euro in an attempt to spike the Tories' guns at the next general election.

However, Mr Mandelson made clear pro-euro ministers would continue to spell out the potential benefits of membership, with Mr Blair's blessing. He said: "Pro-Europeans should certainly not shy away from pointing out the benefits of the single currency and Britain joining on the right conditions ... But there is no need to expend capital campaigning all-out on the issue until the proposition is ready to be put."

He suggested ministers would focus more on the case for Britain's membership of the EU than on the single currency in the run-up to the election. "Let the anti-Europeans bore the pants off everyone in the meantime," he said. "What is more important for us is to make the broader political and economic case for Europe...

"If you want to stand up for Britain, as I do, you have to stand up for Britain in Europe. There is no other alternative and, in the Government, we will continue to do so, loudly."

As Downing Street insisted the Government's "prepare and decide" policy had not changed, the Tories accused Mr Blair of a "cynical" ploy to mislead the voters in his remarks to journalists as he flew to South Korea on Thursday.

Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, said: "I find it very disappointing that when the Prime Minister travels abroad he goes on acting like a spin-doctor and not acting like a prime minister."

He said Mr Blair had shown a complete misunderstanding of the long-term nature of a decision to join the euro. "If we join the single currency it isn't just for Christmas, it is for life," he said.

Keith Vaz, the Minister for Europe, said: "I don't know what the fuss is about. The Prime Minister was merely stating existing policy."

In a speech to a European Union-Asia summit in Seoul yesterday, Mr Blair avoided the euro issue, and spoke of the soaring oil price. "The world oil price has had an obvious and immediate effect on [Britain's] economic prosperity - and can itself be affected by events in the Middle East peace process thousands of miles away from our countries," he said.

"Insecurity and instability in one region of the world today is scarcely ever limited in its consequences to that region."

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