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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Tory chief to Blair: Get on with it
Tony Blair
Tony Blair has endured ups and downs since 1997
Tony Blair should get on with holding a referendum on Britain joining the euro or shut up and focus on public services, says Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight on Wednesday, Mr Blair said a UK euro referendum could be "getting close".

Shut up and get on with the thing you were elected for

Iain Duncan Smith's message to Tony Blair
He said the economics had to be right for Britain, but saying out for political reasons would be a "betrayal" of the national interest.

Those comments were hailed as "very significant" by Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who pressed the government for a clear timetable on the vote.

But Mr Duncan Smith accused Mr Blair of "playing games" on the issue by pretending to be in favour one day and against the next.

Click here to watch the Newsnight interview

"If he wants to enter the euro, it should be his decision to get on with the referendum," said the Tory leader.

"If he doesn't, he should shut up and get on with sorting out the health service and public transport and all the things that have gone wrong, the violent crime in the streets."

Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith to Blair: Put up or shut up
In his interview, Mr Blair said the economics had to be right for Britain, but staying out for political reasons would be a "betrayal" of the national interest.

He reiterated that the Treasury's five economic tests on euro entry would be decided upon by June 2003 and then "put to the people".

Mr Kennedy welcomed the comments, saying: "He has definitely gone further in trying move the mood music."

May Day vote?

Downing Street says there is nothing new in the comments, but they are being seen as the clearest indication yet that a euro vote will be held next year.

Michael Hume, chief economist at Lehman Brothers, said 1 May next year was the most likely referendum date.

Mr Hume told Today that autumn next year was the latest possible date if ministers wanted Britain to adopt the euro before the next election.

"If you bring that forward and allow a bit of breathing room, it seems to make sense to go on 1 May," he added.

The pro-euro Britain in Europe group said they were Mr Blair's "strongest euro signal yet".

Earlier, 32 Labour MPs tabled a Commons motion calling for an "early" referendum.

Political motives

But the anti-euro 'no' campaign poured scorn on Mr Blair's insistence on the five economic tests.

Campaign director George Eustice said: "If Tony Blair tries to take Britain into the euro it will be for political not economic reasons."

But he added: "Any claim that the tests have been met will be fiercely contested."

Labour MP Ian Davidson said nobody could claim the tests had been met "clearly and ambiguously" as the Treasury said they must.

"Joining the euro now would destabilise the economy - and that means a return to boom and bust and higher unemployment," he added.

Brown discussions

In the second of three set-piece interviews with Jeremy Paxman on Wednesday, the prime minister refused to be "tied down" to a specific timetable for holding a referendum.

"I can't start specifying to you the weeks or months in which that will happen," said Mr Blair.

"But I don't think there's an issue about a gap... once the tests are passed, then it is in the interests of your economy, so we believe you go in."

He said he discusses the progress being made with Chancellor Gordon Brown "all the time".

Mr Paxman asked if he wanted to go down in history as the prime minister who surrendered the pound.

Mr Blair replied: "I would have no problem with history recording me as the person who said to the British people, 'It is in our interests for us to be a key and major player in Europe and here is something that is in a single currency, is in our economic interests to do so'."

The third instalment of Tony Blair's Newsnight interviews will be broadcast on BBC 2 at 2230 BST on Thursday.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"The prime minister is very enthusiatic about the single currency"
See also:

16 May 02 | UK Politics
Blair backs 'EU president' post
15 May 02 | UK Politics
Prime Minister's Questions
16 May 02 | UK Politics
Blair says euro poll 'getting close'
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