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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 06:48 GMT 07:48 UK
Rolling out the euro roadshow - again

A euro roadshow is being launched - but haven't we been here before? In a word: Yes. BBC News Online's Mark Davies reports.

Picture the scene: An underground garage in Whitehall. Workmen wipe the sweat from their brows as they emerge from under the bonnet of a rusty old hulk of a vehicle.

The bodywork is covered in grime. Old stickers are peeling away on the sides. Inside, an old Britain in Europe leaflet lies on the back seat next to a crushed drinks can and a bag of unused balloons.

Yep, they're preparing to roll out the old Euro Roadshow again. A very old idea dressed up as a major new initiative is back on the road.

It first got a run-out as a shiny new thing in 1997, with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown taking turns to drive, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

Get this, for instance, from a CBI speech in November 1997, from one G. Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It is now time in the national economic interest to set aside the divisions over Europe that have caused - over a long period of time - indecision, instability, a loss of influence abroad, and denied us a national economic consensus

Read it again. And remember that was said not in Downing Street on a blustery day in June 2003, but at a dinner for business chiefs in November 1997. But it could easily have been one of Mr Brown's soundbites during his uncomfortable news conference with Mr Blair on Tuesday.

Just as this quote from the prime minister, also in November 1997, could have been made on Tuesday.

In due course, when the economic circumstances permit, we want Britain to be part of that success and we want business and the City to start active preparations now

Back then, Messrs Blair and Brown were roaring around in their pro-euro bandwagon like nobodies business.

"Prepare and decide", that's what we'll do, they roared. "But have no doubt, we will join the euro..."

A lull followed. Perhaps this euro business wasn't quite the gentle country drive they'd expected. The exhaust fell off the euro roadshow. The gear box cranked a little. The engine stuttered.

Blair launches Europe campaign....back in 1999
People kept getting in the way, shouting their mouths off about the whole affair. Young Billy Hague got himself a big lorry and went around the place saying the euro was a really, really, really bad idea.

What to do about that? Easy - relaunch the roadshow! Send her back on the road! Spread the word!

And so in 1999, Mr Blair announced that he would....

Join men and women of all political persuasions and none and give my active support to the Britain in Europe campaign when it is launched in the autumn

Once in every generation the case for Europe needs to be restated, I believe in it and I will give leadership to it.

The case that we make is exactly that - for Britain in Europe - and I urge people across all parities who oppose extreme Euroscepticism which threatens exit from Europe to campaign for Britain in Europe

By now he was on a roll. And in the autumn declared that he was going to make the case for the UK being in Europe to rebut a growing "chauvinistic" and "isolationist" anti-European clamour.

Backing a UK committed to the future of the European Union was a "patriotic" cause.

I am proud to be part of a gathering that stretches across all political parties and none to make our case for Britain in Europe to our country

Another reminder: that was at a Britain in Europe launch alongside senior Tories in October 1999 - not June 2003 in a Downing Street press conference.

With that, Mr Blair tossed the keys to Keith Vaz - remember him? - so he could give the old roadshow a spin.

We want the people of Britain to be in no doubt that membership of the EU is not an optional extra - that Britain is better off in Europe

Mr Vaz wasn't in Downing Street on Tuesday - we won't go into that - but a quote like that could have been.
William Hague got his own euro roadshow going......

And boy was he keen on the euro roadshow.

"We were on the bus for five days and we conducted 25 engagements," he crowed in 2000.

And comparing it with Mr Hague's "save the pound" vehicle, he went on:

Mine was an all-singing, all-dancing visit round the country where we sat and engaged with the British people in a positive way. I also engaged with those who did not support the campaign to explain membership to the British people

Sadly for Mr Vaz, his time in the driving seat was drawing to an end. But there waiting in the wings, soft leather driving gloves in hand, was Peter Hain, Europe minister and new man at the wheel of the Euro Roadshow.

He whizzed around the UK, tearing up the highways and byways in the old wagon, extolling the virtues of the euro and Europe. There really was no stopping him.

The introduction of the euro elsewhere, he wowed, would mean it would...

...cease to be that source of myth and prejudice and fantasy and fear and will become a practical day to day reality and that will enable people to make a sensible decision about it

But bigger and better things lay ahead for Mr Hain, not least a testing journey to the heart of Europe and a place on the committee examining the future of Europe.

Reluctantly, he handed control of the debate about the UK and Europe over to Denis MacShane.

Who launched a roadshow!

I want to talk about Europe, warts and all.

Not everything that Brussels does is perfect. But I will argue that we get a lot more out of Europe than the alternative, which is to revert to the days when all the Europeans were at odds with each other

Which pretty much brings the old Euro Roadshow back full circle to Downing Street, June 2003.

And the launch of another roadshow to persuade Britain of the merits of a role in Europe.

The old truck is being dusted down for another spin around the towns and cities of the UK.

Which begs the question, after clocking up all those miles, what was achieved the first time round?




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