Letter: Risks of staying out

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ALL OVER Europe, starting from next year, businesses will begin pricing their goods and services in euro as well as their local currencies, and unless they don't mind losing business British traders will be doing the same. Already, several British banks have said that they will be offering customers the opportunity to bank in euro, and we should expect to see a huge uptake as the benefits of doing so will be very tempting - no exchange costs, more stability in prices, lower interest rates, and more buying power.

All of which leaves British policy-makers in a dilemma, yet again, over Europe. By appeasing Murdoch-inspired public opinion and staying out of monetary union, we risk one of two perils: on the one hand, if the euro is strong, there may well be an undignified scramble out of sterling and into the euro, driving the value of the pound ever downwards as more and more of us decide to conduct our affairs in euro, and sterling atrophies. On the other hand, if the euro is weak, then the pound will boom, with disastrous consequences for jobs and social stability here. Either way, the only ones to profit from Britain's continued exclusion will be those who can afford to speculate on the currency markets - and after the debacle of Black Wednesday, we have surely had enough of that. Our entry, which increasingly looks as though it will be sooner rather than later, is in danger of resembling a dash to the lifeboats rather than the positive and reasoned choice it should be.

But what if we were to abandon our traditionally superior and jingoistic attitudes to matters European, and instead openly admit to our substantial inter-dependence with our continental neighbours and join up now? What is the worst that could happen? Death? Plague? Hordes of Brussels officials interfering in our cherished ways of life in ever more personal ways? Hardly. The worst that could happen, should we join and the euro fail, would be that we find ourselves in the same boat as France, Germany, Holland and the rest - with a devalued currency. At least British jobs would be safe.

Whatever the protestations of the europhobes about not taking risks with our currency, there are risks for us whether we are in or out. And given that an early British entry would boost the credibility of the new euro still further, it seems a much better bet to be in than stay out.

ROBIN PRIOR

Ealing, Middlesex

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