TUC in Brighton: Cancelled Blair speech gave firm backing to euro

Prime Minister drops his address on the single currency as conference suspends business following US terrorist attacks
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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister was due to deliver yesterday what would have been one of his strongest speeches in support of the European single currency since he took office.

However, as the scale of the atrocities in America became clear, Tony Blair cancelled his planned address to the TUC conference in Brighton and made a statement offering his sympathy to the victims' families and declaring his determination to form a worldwide front against terrorism.

The TUC later suspended its conference ­ the first time it has done so in living memory ­ and cancelled a dinner that was to be addressed by Mr Blair. In copies of his speech distributed before his intended address to TUC delegates, Mr Blair had failed to offer the assurances that trade unionists were seeking over the scale of private involvement in the delivery of public services.

As a mark of respect for the victims in the US, union leaders declined to comment, but it is expected there will now be a major row on the subject at the Labour Party conference later this month, when the Prime Minister faces defeat on the issue.

It was not clear last night whether the TUC conference would resume today when delegates were due to debate the issue. Mr Blair's intended remarks on the euro were designed to draw attention away from the row over plans to increase private involvement in public services and indicate his enthusiasm for the euro.

While not committing the Government to any imminent referendum on the single currency, he emphasised that a successful euro was in Britain's interest and that, provided economic conditions were met, it was still in our interests to join. He said that three million jobs and nearly 60 per cent of international commerce relied on trade with the European Union. "It is the most integrated regional bloc of nations the world has seen and it now works together on issues of common foreign defence policy.

"Tell me what nation anywhere, faced with such a strategic alliance right on its doorstep, at the crux of international politics, would isolate itself from that alliance.'' It would be an "absurd denial'' of self-interest, he said.

Mr Blair was to remind delegates that from next January the euro would be circulating in 12 of the 15 EU countries. Sweden was considering membership and while Denmark had rejected it, the country's currency remained tied to the euro.

Mr Blair's speech notes said: "All those people who said it would never happen now content themselves with saying it will be a disaster. I believe they are wrong. And a successful euro is in our interest. So provided the economic conditions are met, it is right that Britain joins."

However, it was known that his planned references to plans for public services would have failed to placate Labour's biggest union affiliates. Senior trade unionists had demanded that Mr Blair provide details of his plans for private-sector involvement in state services.

However, he would have told them that the areas where there might be a role for the private sector had already been spelled out "with crystal clarity'' in the published plan for the NHS, the Education White Paper and in the 10-year transport strategy. However, he intended to tell union leaders that they would be consulted if the proposals change.