Tony Blair insisted that he had "not backed off" British membership of the euro yesterday as he unveiled a powerful cabinet group dedicated to preparing for entry.
In his warmest words yet in favour of joining the currency, the Prime Minister said no one should underestimate his "personal determination to make sure Britain plays its full role at the centre of Europe. The economics have got to be in the right place," he added. "But don't doubt our commitment, in principle, to joining, because it is the right thing for Britain."
The European Union Strategy Committee will oversee changes to the housing market and mortgage finance, local pay deals and housing benefit, all of which will help the economy to converge with the eurozone.
The committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, includes the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and is supported by the Treasury. But it is dominated by euro enthusiasts such as Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, Peter Hain, the leader of the Commons, and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary. Other members are Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Andrew Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary.
Pro-euro MPs had worried that Downing Street had done little to push euro entrysince the Chancellor's statement on 9 June that Britain was unready to join. But Mr Blair rejected the charge. "We have not backed off any decision in relation to the single currency. We have reaffirmed in principle our commitment to go in," he said.
He was speaking at a press conference at which the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, made clear his preference for Britain to join the euro.