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banner Monday, 25 September, 2000, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Mandelson strikes out for euro
"I do not believe our euro policy will lose us votes at the next election," was the bold assertion of Peter Mandelson, as - if opinion polls are to be believed - the single currency is somewhat out of favour with the public at the moment.

But as Labour has learnt in recent weeks, polls have a habit of performing somersaults with no warning.

Speaking at a Britain in Europe fringe meeting at Labour conference in Brighton, the Northern Ireland secretary stood up for Europe: "The British press is wrong to always see Europe as a thinly veiled plot."

The conference had barely kicked into life as he spoke, but here he was out and about making the case for the UK's wholehearted engagement with the European Union, and - once economic conditions are met - joining the single currency.

Mr Mandelson ticked off the press for seeing the EU as a "Franco-German plot designed to do us down".

The minister was keen to highlight benefits for the UK of being a key member of the European Union, ranging from trade, common regulations on asylum and a more united stance on defence.

Mr Mandelson said he was hoping for an informed debate in the future on the single currency and then accused the Conservatives of being desperate not only to write off the euro but to leave the EU altogether.

William Hague's party, he said, had been "mugged and hijacked" by Eurosceptics - "a sinister crowd" who secretly backed withdrawal from the EU "only they didn't have the courage to say so".

The Tories' pledge, made earlier this year, to hold referendums on any further extension of EU powers would be "a direct challenge to the powers of the EU courts" and "unacceptable" to our EU partners.

A Tory government under William Hague would lead to our "ultimate exit" from the Europe.

Looking to the future of the euro, Mr Mandelson said: "Nobody's asking us to join tomorrow, no one is even asking us to join the week after next". Whenever we were asked to join, "the people" would have the final say.

Next up on the platform after Mr Mandelson was Roger Lyons, the beleagured MSF union leader, making his first appearance at a Britain in Europe rally - and one of his few since the scandal over his expenses blew up in public during the summer.

He urged both business and the unions to campaign hard for a Labour victory at the next election, as only then would the UK's place in Europe be assured.

As some members of the audience whisperingly speculated among themselves over the possible size of Mr Lyons's conference expenses claim, the MSF general secretary warned the meeting that a Tory-led government "would lead us back to the dark days of high unemployment and low public spending".

Picking up on a earlier theme the final speaker, Britain in Europe director Simon Buckby, said his organisation would commit itself to rooting out the misinformation being spread by the press about "Brussels bureaucrats".

The sum of press stories about the banning of bent cucumbers and new regulations ensuring condoms which are too small for "British assets" was "beginning to soak into the consciousness of this debate" he said.

The case for the euro have been made, Labour Party members circulating around the hotels and meeting rooms of the conference fringe will have no shortage of chances to hear the case against.

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