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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Owen warns against early euro poll
Campaign by Business for Sterling and New Europe against the UK adopting the euro
The new No campaign's first poster
Former SDP founder and one-time Labour minister Lord Owen has warned that a "rushed" referendum on joining the euro would be "indecent".

Speaking on the launch-day of a multi-million campaign aimed at persuading voters to reject signing up to the single European currency, Lord Owen said he wanted the UK to play a positive role in the EU, but would prefer the euro to be "put many years away".

Lord Owen was one of the leading figures in the simply-titled "No" campaign launched on Monday.

Lord Owen: Wants the euro-referendum "excluded"
The cross-party campaign was a joint effort by the two main anti-euro organisations Business for Sterling, and New Europe.

The former foreign secretary is a member of the latter group, which includes Tory ex-cabinet ministers Malcolm Rifkind and Nigel Lawson, and Labour ex-chancellor Denis Healey.

Lord Owen criticised the idea of holding a referendum immediately after a general election, calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to think "very hard" before doing so.

"I don't exactly know what Tony Blair's mind is. I think he'd like to go into the euro but doesn't want to pay any political price for risking doing so," Lord Owen told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

"It is not easy to understand what Gordon Brown wants. He has previously been rather in favour of the euro, on the other hand as chancellor he has seen the strength of the British economy.

"I hope he and Tony Blair think very hard over the next few months - why should they go into this general election on the present strategy of effectively leaving open the possibility of a rushed referendum? If I were them I would exclude it."

Of the No campaign's position on joining the euro, he said: "We are not prepared to say 'never' to a referendum in the next parliament...but at least if they pushed it into the middle of the next parliament.

"It is very indecent to go into a quick-snap referendum immediately after an election and I think will be seen so by the public."

'In due course'

Europe Minister Keith Vaz would give no clue as to the timing of a poll. He told the same programme that the issue of the referendum "is something that will come up in due course".

He added: "What I feel so sad about is we hear pro-Europeans like Lord Owen saying he doesn't mind if his campaign leads people to believe we should be anti-Europe."

"It will be the British people who will decide. Lord Owen wants to decide for himself and [shadow chancellor] Mr Portillo and Mr Hague want to make that decision in a smoke-filled room in the middle of Westminster.

"We believe that the people themselves should have this choice and make this decision in public in a full-fledged referendum campaign."

The "No" campaign is designed to promote both the economic and constitutional cases against euro entry, and to persuade the government to abandon holding a post-election referendum on British membership.

Strange bedfellows

The campaign includes national press and poster advertising and a fund-raising appeal led by Sir Tim Rice.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy and AEEU leader Sir Ken Jackson, vehemently opposed to each other on a range of other policy issues but allies on the euro, joined in attacking the new campaign.

The two are due to share a Britain in Europe - the pro-euro organisation - platform on Wednesday spelling out potential benefits of joining the single currency.

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See also:

01 Sep 00 | Business
Tax cuts will boost euro
01 Sep 00 | UK Politics
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30 Aug 00 | UK Politics
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04 Aug 00 | Business
UK chided again over euro
08 Jun 00 | Business
UK 'close to eurozone'
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