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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 12:54 GMT
Blair's change of emphasis
Tony Blair
Mr Blair is being seen as increasingly pro-euro
By BBC Political Correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti

Tony Blair's speech to the European Research Institute in Birmingham has not - on paper - altered the government's policy on the euro by one iota.

The situation remains that Britain should only join if Chancellor Gordon Brown's five economic tests are met.

Tony Blair appears very gradually to be arguing himself - and the government - into a corner

But, and it's a big but, the tone and language of the prime minister's speech this morning provide one of the strongest signals yet that he thinks joining the single currency would be the right thing for Britain - and staying out would entail a crucial loss of influence.

Consider Mr Blair's language. He sees Britain's future as "inextricably linked with Europe", and says meeting the country's future needs "demands a leap of imagination."

He attacks past politicians, of both parties, for failing to appreciate "the emerging reality of European integration."

He says Britain's past relationship with Europe is littered with examples of Britain initially refusing to accept key changes - the Common Market, the Social Chapter regulating employment rights - and then being left behind.

Warm words

Even after the 1991 Maastricht treaty, which brought about greater political cooperation, Mr Blair said "people constantly insisted the Euro would never happen. But it has and the notes and coins will be the actual physical currency of 12 out of the 15 EU nations in six weeks' time."

The prime minister's warm words about Europe don't come completely out of the blue.

In his speech to the Labour party conference in October, he signalled that he might be preparing to take on the decidedly anti-Euro electorate.

If the economic tests are met, he said "we should have the courage of our argument, to ask the British people for their consent in this Parliament."

And the tone was repeated in a speech in Nuremberg earlier this week, when he described the success of the single currency as being "critical for us all".

However enthusiastic Tony Blair may be, there is, it's always been assumed, one major stumbling block to British entry - Gordon Brown.

Standing together?

But the chancellor's supposed caution seems to have softened slightly over recent days.

A lengthy newspaper interview earlier this week had him protesting that he and the prime minister were completely united when it came to the euro.

Meanwhile sources close to Mr Brown suggest that he is starting to recognise that a decision on entry cannot be postponed indefinitely.

Part of this change in tone - from both the prime minister and the chancellor - can perhaps be explained by the subtle shifts in power that have gone on since the terrorist attacks on America.

Tony Blair has made explicit links between the success of the international coalition against Osama bin Laden and the need for a strong and cohesive Europe.

Risen status

His own status has risen dramatically as a result of the central role he's played in the coalition building, while the chancellor, with a limited part to play, has seen his profile dip.

Everything indicates that it is an opportune moment for the prime minister to start being more bullish about euro entry.

It is only a change of emphasis, not of policy.

But by constantly playing up the disadvantages of not playing a full role in Europe, Tony Blair appears very gradually to be arguing himself - and the government - into a corner.

See also:

23 Nov 01 | Business
Q&A: Is the UK ready for the euro?
23 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Blair's new euro hint
05 Nov 01 | Business
Brown puts brakes on euro ambitions
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