Now give us our say on the euro

This weekend, British Eurosceptics are cock-a-hoop at Denmark's rejection of the euro. The Tories and their friends in the press argue that the result will damage the Labour Party. John Major on Radio 4's Today programme argues that the result will extinguish any prospect of a British referendum for the foreseeable future.

This weekend, British Eurosceptics are cock-a-hoop at Denmark's rejection of the euro. The Tories and their friends in the press argue that the result will damage the Labour Party. John Major on Radio 4's Today programme argues that the result will extinguish any prospect of a British referendum for the foreseeable future.

But hold on a minute. With all this excited chatter about "people power", the Tories seem to be forgetting something. It is Labour - not the Conservatives - who are offering the British people the opportunity of "doing a Denmark". Tory policy is to deny the British a say on this crucial issue. The Tory "referendum" has only one voter - William Hague - and he has already made his choice: no choice.

Tony Blair, on the other hand, is offering the entire British electorate the chance to vote on this monumental issue. Far from the Danish result knocking Mr Blair's nerve, we hope that it will prompt him to go further - and guarantee that a referendum will be held in the next Parliament, even if all of the Chancellor's five economic tests have not been met. The flaw in the Government's argument is that each of the five tests has equal weight. Only when all five have been passed will Mr Brown allow a popular vote. But what if four of the tests are passed? What if the convergence criteria are met, and it is agreed that the British economy and jobs market will benefit from entry, but it isn't yet certain that the financial services industry will benefit? Is Mr Brown really going to deny us the opportunity to vote on the euro for the sake of a handful of City traders? People would rightly be furious at the Government's intransigence.

Of course the Danish result is a blow to those who insist that fuller European integration is inevitable and welcome. It makes a two-speed Europe, at least for a while, almost certain, and ensures that Britain will not be left alone on the sidelines. It gives a fillip to the sceptics, who can argue that the Danes have proved that there are political qualms about the single currency - not just the economic ones that Mr Blair insists are the sole factor.

But we hope that careful analysis of the Danish vote will also give some cheer to those beyond the swivel-eyed tendency. First, the massive turnout in Denmark proves that people understand and care about the single currency. They relish the right to vote on the issue. Referendums are popular - and people should have their democratic right to a say.

Second, it is highly relevant that there now seems no prospect of a general election in Denmark, despite the government's defeat in the referendum. It has long been assumed in British constitutional circles that a referendum on the euro would be a matter of confidence - that Mr Blair would have to call an election if the euro were rejected. But there is no reason why this should be so. If the Cabinet recommends euro entry, but they have the maturity to give the voters the final say, then a defeat need not be terminal for the Government. If Labour wins a general election next May, it will have received an endorsement of its manifesto for a full term. For a referendum rebuff to trigger another election would be wrong.

This has not been the triumphant week for Labour that the party managers would have liked. But we hope Mr Blair will look beyond the headlines and polls, remember that he will still win an election next year - and stiffen his resolve to hold a referendum early in the next Parliament, giving every British voter, not just William Hague, a say.

Comments