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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Arguing the toss over the euro
Should we or shouldn't we?
By BBC News Online's John Walton

The starting gun has yet to be fired and the date of the race itself hasn't even been set. But where the euro is concerned, the pro and anti camps aren't prepared to quietly wait for Tony Blair to shout the off.

They're already out and about campaigning in the referendum that will, once it's called, decide sterling's future.

History is made, and profits are made, by those who are prepared to take risks

Ken Livingstone
So on Wednesday evening the London Chamber of Commerce played host to a two-team tag bout with Ken Livingstone and Adair Turner in the pro-corner, vs Frank Field and Simon Wolfson for the No campaign.

And as debates on the euro go it was a measured, even courteous affair.

Jingoism played no part in the exchange, bringing finer economic points to the fore.

Disaster claims overstated

Arguments, backed up with what the audience was helpfully assured were facts, were presented eloquently and forcefully by the speakers who clearly believed heartily in their cases.

Adair Turner - a key player in the Britain in Europe campaign - was frank, telling the 200 or so gathered business leaders that whichever way the debate turned, joining or not joining the single currency would not leave Britain facing "disaster".

It was not a choice, he said, between "nirvana and penury". That aside, joining the euro would see the UK cast away problems of exchange rate risk; investment and productivity would be boosted and living standards would rise.

Beware the Trojans

The former head of the CBI then warned the audience not believe any of the "scaremongering or myths" put about on euro membership by the No campaign.

He said they would have you believe that joining the euro will mean eventual tax harmonisation and even full political union.

Ken Livingstone
Ken Livingstone: London will suffer if the UK does not join
And sure enough when Simon Wolfson took the floor, the chief executive of Next was quick to warn the audience that there has never been "successful monetary union without political integration".

Don't believe Adair, he said, when he tells you: "You can just have the Trojan horse, you don't need to have the Trojans as well." He probably meant Greeks, but you can see what he was driving at.

And with the end of his ten-minute turn, London's mayor entered the ring.

Making history

Turning the tide back again, Mr Livingstone insisted that political union would not inevitably follow joining the euro - although being a federalist, he wouldn't mind too much if it did.

It was time to cast aside doubt and take a brave leap into the future and throw our lot in with the rest of the eurozone.

"History is made, and profits are made, by those who are prepared to take risks," said the mayor.

Simon Wolfson
Simon Wolfson: Beware the euro
Joining up would see the UK move to a currency zone with higher growth rates than are our own, and possibly see us become part of the eventual "pre-dominant economic power in the world," he ventured.

But Labour MP Frank Field was having none of it. Despite the many issues on which he agreed with Ken, there was too much past "deceit in the European debate," he said.

The public had often been told by politicians that whichever European project was in hand would be the "final destination", and too often "we see the line is then extended".

Too much was at stake to take what amounts to a leap in the dark, and the prosperity of the world's fourth richest nation was not to be risked lightly, cautioned Mr Field.

Yes and no

With their speeches done the panel then took questions from the floor. When asked if the euro has been a success, Ken Livingstone said: "Yes." Frank Field said: "No."

"Will taxes be harmonised if we join?" asked another businessman. Adair Turner said they would not. Simon Wolfson said it was certain they would.

And with that, time had run out.

The debate had been detailed, informative and good humoured, nothing like the typical Punch and Judy style knockabout more often seen in Westminster. But with such strong and conflicting opinions it was hard to see if much light had actually been shed on the issue.

With opinions differing so wildly and both sides making strong cases, the public are left with a difficult choice to make should a referendum be called.

Perhaps some further reflection is called for.

Although spending too much time on that could present its own problems, according to a warning from Ken Livingstone: "There may come a point when we've finally made up our mind and, damn me, if they don't do a de Gaulle on us and decide not to let us in."

See also:

03 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair's euro chances talked up
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