The Danish vote is a warning to Mr Blair to come out fighting - now

There is an unconvincing insouciance about the response of the British and Swedish governments to the Danish referendum. "It makes no difference to us," is the gist of the Foreign Secretary's argument. This is not the correct posture to adopt towards the majesty of democracy in action. What is more, the claim that referendums in other member states are a purely internal affair for foreigners hardly pays the necessary tribute to the ideal of a people's Europe.

There is an unconvincing insouciance about the response of the British and Swedish governments to the Danish referendum. "It makes no difference to us," is the gist of the Foreign Secretary's argument. This is not the correct posture to adopt towards the majesty of democracy in action. What is more, the claim that referendums in other member states are a purely internal affair for foreigners hardly pays the necessary tribute to the ideal of a people's Europe.

No, any clear-eyed supporter of Britain's membership of the euro must recognise that the Danish vote is a setback to the chances of this country making the right choice about its future, and learn the lessons of the Danish people's decision.

The first lesson is that referendums cannot be won simply by exhortation from the great, the good and the thoughtful. The "Yes" vote in Denmark was supported by the prime minister, all but one of the main political parties, all the main newspapers and most business and trades union leaders. Yet that overwhelming civic consensus could not persuade a population that is prosperous and fiercely independence-minded, rather than nationalist - except for a strong tinge of anti-German sentiment.

Some aspects of the Danish national outlook do not apply to Britain. Denmark is a small country which is proud of its progressive social organisation, a political-cultural identity it fears will be eroded in a closer union with a German-dominated EU. British hostility to the euro is not based so much on the fear of being swallowed up by larger nations as on the loss of political control to a federation. The fact that we are not worried, as the Danes are, about Germans buying holiday homes on our coasts means that the argument for our joining can at least be conducted on the basis of rough equality with the French and the Germans. The Danes may not mind being in the slow lane of a two-speed EU, but that should not be acceptable to us.

However, when Britain's moment of decision comes, it will be no use Tony Blair relying on the massed endorsement of the CBI, TUC and the great and good retired statesmen. The debate will be differently shaped here in any case, not least because the press will be divided in favour of those who say "No" because of the prejudice of two North American proprietors.

All of which simply underlines not only the importance of making the pro-euro case in terms of hard economic interest, but also the feebleness of the efforts so far of the Government, which (one or two ministers honourably excepted) seems to believe that it can avoid fighting openly for a British "Yes" vote until after the election.

Ultimately, the argument which the nay-sayers find hardest to counter is that Britain will be more prosperous, and its prosperity will be more secure, if it joins the monetary union. As a great trading nation, we will gain secure and predictable access to the huge EU market. As the hub of an English-speaking global network, our competitive advantage as the location for inward investment will be outstanding.

These are not difficult economic arguments, but they need to be pressed with confidence - and without dishonest scare stories about the number of jobs supposedly dependent on a "Yes" vote. Meanwhile, the euro-sceptic complaint about loss of national sovereignty needs to be exposed for what it is: a vote of no confidence in Britain's ability to argue its corner in the councils of Europe.

The Danes have their own reasons, as a small nation, for worrying about the influence they wield in the European Union. Britain should have no such fears.

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