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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 06:08 GMT 07:08 UK
Blair says euro poll 'getting close'
Tony Blair and Jeremy Paxman
Mr Blair during the Newsnight interview
Tony Blair has admitted a referendum on Britain's entry into the single European currency could be "getting close".

If the economic tests are in the right place, if the tests are met, then it is overwhelmingly in this country's interests to join

Tony Blair
In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight, the prime minister gave the clearest indication yet that a euro vote will be held next year.

Mr Blair reiterated that the Treasury's five economic tests on euro entry would be decided upon by June 2003.

If the tests are met, he said, the issue would be "put to the people".

'Ground being prepared'

Downing Street says there is nothing new in the comments.

But the pro-euro Britain in Europe group they were Mr Blair's "strongest euro signal yet" and a "significant development" in the debate.

It is high time he (Mr Blair) got on with it

Lord Heseltine
Conservative former minister Lord Brittan said: "The ground is clearly being prepared."

Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine said: "It has been reported this week that the prime minister's pollsters have told him that he can win a referendum on whether Britain should join the euro.

"It will surprise no one when I say I have always thought that he could win and that it is high time he got on with it."

'Get on with it'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said Mr Blair's comments were "very significant".

Joining the euro now would destabilise the economy

Ian Davidson, Labour MP
"It's much further than the prime minister has gone before.

"Let's just hope that Tony Blair has the active support of his chancellor this time.

"We need a clear timetable for a referendum and we need it as soon as possible. Let's get on with it."

Earlier, 32 Labour MPs tabled a Commons motion calling for an "early" referendum.

'Destabilising' euro

But the anti-euro 'no' campaign poured scorn on Mr Blair's insistence on the five economic tests.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy: 'Clear timetable is needed'
Campaign director George Eustice said: "If Tony Blair tries to take Britain into the euro it will be for political not economic reasons."

But he added: "Any claim that the tests have been met will be fiercely contested."

Labour MP Ian Davidson said: "There's no way anyone can claim the tests have been met 'clearly and unambiguously' as the Treasury have said they must.

"Joining the euro now would destabilise the economy - and that means a return to boom and bust and higher unemployment."

Brown discussions

In the second of three set-piece interviews with Jeremy Paxman on Wednesday, the prime minister refused to be "tied down" to a specific timetable for holding a referendum.

"I can't start specifying to you the weeks or months in which that will happen," Mr Blair said.

"But I don't think there's an issue about a gap... once the tests are passed, then it is in the interests of your economy, so we believe you go in."

He said he discusses the progress being made with Chancellor Gordon Brown "all the time".

'Closer together'

Mr Paxman asked if he wanted to go down in history as the prime minister who surrendered the pound.

Mr Blair replied: "I would have no problem with history recording me as the person who said to the British people, 'It is in our interests for us to be a key and major player in Europe and here is something that is in a single currency, is in our economic interests to do so'."

He said the world was "moving closer together" and there were 10 countries queuing up to get inside the European Union.

But he stressed the economics had to be right for British entry to the euro because it was an "economic union".

Political reasons

Mr Blair said he was a "huge supporter" of Britain's relationship with the US but he thought the country's "destiny" was as a "a leading player in Europe".

He said being a leading player in Europe did not necessarily mean being a member of the euro.

But Britain should not stay out of the euro for "political reasons" - to do so "would be a betrayal of our national interests".

Mr Blair's comments come as former Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke launched a new pro-euro group of Conservative MPs.

The BBC's Andrew Walker
"Clearly there is still a lot of work to do if the British government is to win a referendum on this issue"
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"The prime minister is very enthusiatic about the single currency"

Ask the experts about Tony Blair's performance in the Newsnight interviews
Blair faces Paxman

Is Britain ready for the euro?



62 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Key stories

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See also:

15 May 02 | UK Politics
15 May 02 | UK Politics
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