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Friday, 9 June, 2000, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Blair faces fresh euro pressure

Tony Blair is under fresh euro-pressure
Tony Blair faced renewed pressure to launch an early campaign for Britain to sign up to the euro as a cabinet ally called on the government to start "making the case" to join and a think tank said the UK economy was converging with Europe's.

Trade Secretary Stephen Byers used an interview with the Daily Mirror newspaper to say that once in every generation the argument for positive engagement in Europe needed to be made.

"I guess in my generation it's going to be over whether or not we join the single currency," he said. "We do have to be putting the case both for Europe and the euro."

Stephen Byers: Government must "make the case"
Mr Byers' comments threaten to reignite cabinet tensions over the single currency.

Chancellor Gordon Brown is widely seen wanting to keep the issue out of public debate until after the next general election.

More 'in' than 'out'

Mr Byers' remarks came within hours of a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which found the business cycles of the UK and Europe coming into line, interest rates getting closer and structural reform in euroland gathering pace.

In its regular analysis of the UK's economy, the OECD said that in some respects the UK would soon be more like euroland than some of the European single currency zone's existing members.

"In sum, on several scores, even as an 'out' the United Kingdom is projected to be as close, or even closer, to the economic centre of gravity of the euro area than some of the current 'ins'," its report said.

Economic convergence is at the heart of the government's key tests on whether to join the euro.

Treaty referendum call

The latest euro-row surfaced as Conservative leader William Hague called on voters to be given the constitutional right to referendums to decide on any future proposals to transfer powers from Westminster to the European Union.

Delivering his keynote address to the Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Llandudno, the Tory leader promised: "If the Conservative Party is successful at the next election we will make sure that we bring such transfers to an end."

William Hague: Wants voters to decide on treaties
He also confirmed the Tory leadership would back an amendment seeking to have the same effect to the Political Parties and Referendums Bill later this summer.

"When the Political Parties and Referendums Bill comes before the House of Lords the former Labour foreign secretary Lord Owen and the former Labour chancellor of the exchequer Lord Healey will be tabling an amendment together with Lord Prior.

"The amendment will ensure that in future any bill or part of a bill that the Speaker classifies as of first rate constitutional importance will be subject to a referendum.

Mr Hague told the conference: "No government, this one or any future one, should be able to give away any more of the rights and powers of the British people to Brussels without their permission in a referendum.

"Our policy will be to ensure that any government that wishes to surrender rights and powers will need to persuade a sceptical public to approve such a transfer in a referendum."

'He'll say anything'

A Labour spokesman attacked Mr Hague's speech, saying he was "a weak leader who will do and say anything to appease those people in his party whose real agenda is to get Britain out of Europe, putting at risk three million British jobs, and billions of pounds of inward investment."

Meanwhile a Downing Street spokesman said Number Ten was "completely relaxed" about Mr Byers' remarks.

The spokesman also said there would be no referendum on a European treaty due to be agreed in December at Nice.

The treaty is to pave the way for enlargement of the EU by lessening the right of individual countries to block European directives.

The spokesman pointed out there had been no referendum on the Maastricht Treaty signed under the last Tory government nor on the Single European Act passed under Margaret Thatcher which saw a "dramatic extension" of qualified majority voting.

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See also:

08 Jun 00 | Business
UK 'close to eurozone'
07 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Get off the fence, prime minister!
04 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Pressure for UK euro ballot
05 Jun 00 | Business
Euro-zone tensions rise
14 Oct 99 | Business
Is the UK ready for the euro?
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