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The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"He believes it....will be the deciding issue for voters"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 27 December, 2000, 12:16 GMT
Hague issues euro election warning
William Hague
William Hague wants to be in but not run by Europe
Conservative Party leader William Hague has warned voters the next general election will be their last chance to save the pound.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that if Labour returned to power, Prime Minister Tony Blair would "by hook or by crook" force the single currency onto the UK.

Mr Hague simultaneously insisted his party's sceptical approach to Europe did not mean the UK's ultimate withdrawal.

Euro currency notes
Mr Hague wants euro notes and coins kept out of the UK for at least the next parliament
He said it should remain inside the European Union but fight to make it more flexible.

Reiterating his opposition to British membership of the European single currency during the next parliament, Mr Hague warned a possible point of no return was approaching.

"If this election is won by the Labour Party, it will be the last election in which people can vote to keep the pound, because Tony Blair by hook or by crook will get people into the euro during a new parliament".

Mr Hague said being in Europe but not run by Europe were both "extremely important" to the UK.

He called for a more flexible European Union, able to bring in the countries of central and eastern Europe without insisting every country adopt the same rules and regulations on every subject.

'No divisions'

"Britain must remain in the European Union but Britain must be a voice for a European Union that gives nation states the room to breathe."

The Tory leader insisted his party could still win the forthcoming election, and dismissed suggestions of internal divisions within his team.

"I think the MPs know that we can win the election... any gossip is more among the press than the party."

Asked whether he still had a mountain to climb to be in a position to win, Mr Hague said: "We have always had that since the time of the last general election but we have been steadily climbing it."

Margaret Beckett, Leader of the House of Commons, accused Mr Hague of scaremongering over Europe.

Such scaremongering and cynicism about Europe had lost its impact since Labour retained Britain's veto on tax and social security at the Nice summit last month.

"William Hague has no vision for Britain, no positive policies, no sense of the long term, and remains obsessed solely with the process of politics," she added.

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See also:

05 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Blair seeks 'flexible' Europe
15 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Blair 'held back' pro-euro campaign
14 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Blair's 'patriotic' European vision
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