Wednesday, February 24, 1999 Published at 07:32 GMT
Press split on Blair's euro plan
The Sun: The government's euro plan is "pure nonsense"
The British press has attacked and praised Prime Minister Tony Blair in equal measure over the government's "national changeover plan" to prepare the UK for the possibility of joining the euro.
Wednesday's newspapers that opposed the plan criticised Mr Blair for apparently making up his mind to join the single currency without holding a referendum - one of Labour's key election pledges.
They said that the majority of the public was against joining and the government's changeover plan was merely designed to "soften up" the electorate by suggesting membership of the euro was "inevitable".
'Conning the British nation'
Those in favour of the plan were less unified in their reaction, with some praising the prime minister for pulling together "a formidable cross-party, pro-euro alliance".
Most fell short of openly advocating the euro and instead followed Mr Blair's line that the UK should join only if the correct economic conditions were in place.
The Sun provided the most stridently anti-euro response under the full-page headline "Blair prepares to scrap the pound". It described the government's stance as "pure nonsense".
The paper - whose support, it claims, can win elections - threw its weight behind Conservative leader William Hague, depicting him standing outside Number 10, with a parrot on his shoulder saying: "Stranger things have happened".
The Daily Mail said the government had ignored the will of the people and "set Britain on a course to be swallowed up by a federal Europe".
It accused Mr Blair of "a shabby abuse of power", adding: "The conning of the British nation ... has started with a vengeance".
The more sober Daily Telegraph declared "Blair's death knell for the pound" and depicted him "at the forefront of a campaign to persuade a largely sceptical public" to join the single currency.
"Mr Blair is hoping to edge us, unresisting, in the direction of the euro until it is too late to turn back. It is not too early to resist him," it said.
The Times argued that "flexibility is the key to harmony and prosperity in Europe and accused the government of "shrilly" representing an "inflexible future" where "all countries must march in lock-step".
It blamed the prime minister for failing to take seriously the "constitutional issues" raised by a single currency.
'Getting it right'
On the positive side,The Express carried a letter from Mr Blair in which he restated his opinion that "this government would recommend entry only if the tough economic tests we have set out for membership are met".
The paper backed the prime minister's comments, saying: "It is a careful balancing act Mr Blair is performing and, on the whole, he is getting it right."
The Mirror lashed out at "a rabid campaign to condemn Britain to becoming a sad backwater" by ruling out membership of the euro and said that the prime minister was simply pointing the public "in the right direction" before holding a referendum.
The Guardian, "while strongly European", expressed doubts about "monetary union's chances of success", but insisted that "if Britain is going to enter it is vital to be prepared".
The Financial Times described Mr Blair's plan as "an important landmark", but warned that "the government must convince the public that this next step in European integration is desirable as well as inevitable".
The Independent was also positive, but said the prime minister's lack of leadership was unhelpful to business.
"Like the crab, the Labour Government seems intent on approaching this subject forever sideways, ready at any moment to see dangers ahead and to withdraw beneath the shell," it said.
The Daily Star described the pound as "a millstone" and said "we will not survive" if the UK did not join the single currency.
"No one knows for certain that it will work in the long run. But it is a gamble we will have to take," it said.