Niall FitzGerald: Business will be unforgiving if Mr Blair fudges the euro

From a speech by the chairman of Unilever at a CBI dinner in Brussels
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The Independent Online

Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the CBI's annual dinner in London that membership of the euro could bring clear benefits to Britain in trade, investment and growth - benefits to British business, consumers and jobs. I agree with him.

And next week, together with his cabinet colleagues, a collective decision - or so we are told - will be taken as to whether the economic tests have been met and the time is right to recommend Britain's entry into the single currency.

No one should envy cabinet ministers the task ahead of them - the volume of the material and the weight of the decision are heavy burdens.

And the decision will not be an easy one. We all know that the economic conditions for Britain's entry are not perfect - but they never will be; that the risks inherent in joining have not all been removed - but they never will be; and that the guarantee of winning a referendum does not currently exist - but it never will.

Only one thing, I believe, is certain. If Britain once again fails to take the path so clearly laid out; if we fail to enter the next phase of Europe's development at a crucial and formative stage, then we will all be the losers. Trade will suffer, investment will suffer and our influence will suffer.

A decision to delay further will satisfy no one. The British people will be cynical. Our European partners will feel let down. And British business - I suggest - will be unforgiving.

And so I would have one message for Tony Blair. You rightly turned a deaf ear to the siren voices who warned that action in Iraq would be reckless. Follow your instincts now on the euro. Give us the certainty to plan, the stability to grow and the competitive environment in which to shine. The tests are as met now as they ever will be. Recommend entry. And I for one will be there to support you and to put the compelling arguments in favour of entry.

None of us knows for sure what will be said on 9 June. But I do hope - and I fully expect - that at the very least the Government will provide a clear timetable and a specific action plan for demonstrating how it now intends to achieve economic convergence.

Anything less will not convince this particular businessman, and I believe many others, that the UK Government really is serious about taking Britain into the single currency within a respectable time frame.