Our future is in Europe, says Blair

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair today said Britain must "adjust to the facts" and accept that its future lay in Europe.

In a keynote speech in Birmingham, the Prime Minister said Britain had been damaged by its "history of missed opportunities" in Europe which must now be rectified.

"The tragedy for British politics - for Britain - has been that politicians of both parties have consistently failed, not just in the 1950s but on up to the present day, to appreciate the emerging reality of European integration. And in doing so they have failed Britain's interests," he said.

"Reversing that failure of imagination, mapping out a new vision for Europe and Britain in Europe ... is the task of this Government."

Although he stuck to the line that the Government's five economic tests must be met before it recommended joining euro in a referendum, his speech was widely trailed as the most pro-single currency of his premiership.

Mr Blair said that Britain's future was "inextricably linked" with Europe and that in order to get the best out of it, it must be a "whole-hearted, not half-hearted" partner.

He mounted a scathing attack on the "embarrassingly long history" of Euroscepticism by British politicians across the political spectrum which had let down the national interest.

"For some reason, no amount of getting it wrong will persuade the sceptics that they are wrong. But we should be clear sighted and honest with ourselves," he said.

"The history of our engagement with Europe is one of opportunities missed in the name of illusions - and Britain is suffering as a result. The greatest disservice any British leader could do to the British people is to perpetuate those illusions.

"Who can credit the international vision of those who offer the alternative of what they still call, bizarrely, the 'New' Commonwealth?' Who on Earth can really believe fantasies about Britain becoming a 'nuclear Switzerland' or the 'Hong Kong of the Channel'?

"If this dismal history teaches us one clear lesson, it is this: the EU has succeeded and will succeed."

Labour's rejection of the proposed European coal and steel community in 1950 had failed to save miners' jobs in the 1960s and 1970s; Tory Chancellor RA Butler had dismissed the discussions by the founding six nations of the Common Market as "archaeological excavations"; and when Britain was invited to the 1956 Venice conference it "didn't bother to show up".

When Britain did apply to join in the 1960s it was a "pretty half-hearted affair" and many were relieved when it was vetoed by General de Gaulle, and when it finally signed up in 1971, politicians from both parties wanted to pull out, only to be defeated in the 1973 referendum, Mr Blair said.

In 1989 Britain joined the exchange rate mechanism "too late and for the wrong reasons" and in the 1991 Maastricht Treaty negotiations it devoted all its energy securing opt-outs on the single currency and the social chapter.

"So we said that it wouldn't happen. Then we said it wouldn't work. Then we said we didn't need it. But it did happen. And Britain was left behind," he said.

"We were left behind because it succeeded. The six founding members had created something which worked."

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