Straw says Euro launch 'will persuade Britain'

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The introduction of the single currency in two weeks would help to persuade the British public to join the euro, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said last night.

At a European Union summit in Laeken, Belgium, Mr Straw stepped up the Government's campaign to turn round public hostility to the single currency, hailing the 1 January launch of euro notes and coins in 12 countries as historic.

Mr Straw said: "It will make the British people by definition more familiar with the euro because it will then be a reality. Time will tell exactly what they think of it. I think as people become familiar with the reality, they are likely to be more receptive to it." He argued that British voters had endorsed membership in principle because that was the position set out in Labour's manifesto at the June general election.

Tony Blair is keen to call a referendum on the issue, possibly in 2003, and hopes that Britons who use the euro on holidays and business trips to the Continent will realise its practical benefits.

However, a new European Commission polls shows that only 27 per cent of the British public support the euro, the lowest figure in the EU and much lower than in the other two countries outside the eurozone – Denmark (47 per cent) and Sweden (51 per cent). British support for the EU in general has risen since 11 September.

As the summit continued, there was mounting speculation that Wim Kok, the Dutch Prime Minister, would agree to lead a review on the future of Europe. Objections were being made to the other candidates, including Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the 75-year-old ex-French president, and Giuliano Amato, a former Italian premier.Amid growing signs of a "stop Giscard" campaign, one diplomat described him as "not so much yesterday's man but the day before yesterday's man".