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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
'UK will lead in Europe' - Brown
Euro logo at ECB
The euro debate is raging at Westminster
Support for a "strong pro-European consensus" will grow in the UK, Gordon Brown has claimed.

Speaking in Scotland, the chancellor said the government was seeking to build a future where Britain was "engaged and leading" in Europe.

In the fevered atmosphere at Westminster - even with MPs on a parliamentary break - his comments will be seen as an attempt to dampen speculation of a rift with Tony Blair over the impending decision over the euro.

Mr Brown refused to be drawn on the debate over the currency, simply repeating his mantra that the test of UK membership was whether it is in the national economic interest.

We wish to build for the future engaged and leading in Europe
Gordon Brown
But he did again stress the need for economic reform in the European Union.

Using the first anniversary of the first ferry link between Scotland and the continent as a symbol of European unity, Mr Brown said it made "economic sense to build a strong pro-European consensus" in the UK.

"We wish to build for the future engaged and leading in Europe," he said at the opening of a new ferry terminal at Rosyth on the Firth of Forth.

"Sixty-five per cent of Scottish exports go the EU. More than half of Britain's trade is with Europe.

"So it is not simply for reasons of history and geography, but for good economic sense to build a strong pro-European consensus in Britain."

'Widen and deepen'

He said that consensus would support EU enlargement, stronger trading links with the rest of the world and a recognition that the test for euro membership must be based on the Treasury's five economic tests.

"I believe that this pro-European consensus can widen and deepen in the times to come," he added.

The comments come after Mr Blair said he believed the UK was more in favour of closer European ties than opinion polls suggested.

The UK's euro verdict
A need-to-know guide

And it reflects an effort by ministers to play up the UK's role in Europe ahead of the crucial euro announcement on 9 June, when Mr Brown's verdict is expected to be "not yet".

Ministers are reported to be moving towards agreement on a "road map" for euro entry.

The cabinet discussed the Treasury's studies on the currency on Thursday, with the prime minister saying there was an "emerging consensus" over the issue.

And the question dominating speculation at Westminster is whether he will leave open the possibility of a referendum on the currency within the next two years.

The chancellor is said to want to put a euro poll on hold until after the next general election.

They are circling one another like two black widow spiders wondering whether they are prepared to mate, and they can't seem to make up their minds
John Major on Brown and Blair
The government has been trying to play down talk of rifts over the euro after ex-cabinet minister Peter Mandelson's suggestion that Mr Brown had outmanoeuvred Mr Blair over the issue.

But only hours after Mr Blair said agreement was being reached, his Europe minister, Denis MacShane, caused a fresh flurry of speculation over splits on the issue.

Mr MacShane questioned whether calling a referendum was worth the risk of creating "all-out internal civil war".

Pressure

He later insisted he was referring to a civil war in Britain as a whole rather than within Labour.

The next stage in the government's timetable ahead of the euro announcement is due next week as ministers are given the Treasury's assessment of the five tests for entering the eurozone.

The cabinet will then discuss the euro verdict on 5 June.

Before that there will be more meetings between individual cabinet ministers and Mr Blair and Mr Brown.

Two - Education Secretary Charles Clarke and Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt - are reported to have pressed Mr Brown for an early referendum during the meetings which have already been held.

Meanwhile, former prime minister John Major has claimed that Mr Blair over-played his enthusiasm for Europe - and is now paying the price with Labour split over the euro.

Mr Major said Mr Blair should call a euro referendum, but said the prime minister would face certain defeat.

'Spiders'

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Major said it seemed the two top men in government had "substantially different" views on the euro.

"They are circling one another like two black widow spiders wondering whether they are prepared to mate, and they can't seem to make up their minds," said Mr Major.

The former Tory leader said Mr Blair "has led people to believe consistently since he became prime minister that he is very much in favour of the euro and he would like to take us in.

"If that is so, it is hard to understand why he is being quite so coy about the issue now.

"I suspect that he took many of his early European positions just to embarrass the Conservative Party.

"I personally doubt whether he has a great European conviction either way."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"The cabinet discussed the Euro for the first time"



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