Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Blair Has Been Rash about Europe. No Reason Why Mr Hague Should Be Too

Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Blair Has Been Rash about Europe. No Reason Why Mr Hague Should Be Too

Article excerpt

William Hague has been offered one last chance to avert the split in the Conservative party now looming. He is unlikely to take it.

The Prime Minister has made a quite uncharacteristic error of judgment: he has been brave. Earlier than he needed to, he has taken a position on monetary union. It is not a position from which he can retreat without damage. Though his recent Commons statement on Britain's `National Changeover Plan' was punctuated, in a desultory sort of way, with ifs, the gist was unambiguous. It has been decided that Britain can, ought to and should soon adopt the euro. As Downing Street seemed happy to aver, the `if has become a sort of 'when'.

Mr Blair has gone up a gum tree. It follows that Mr Hague could come down from his and stomp around all over the place, picking up support from a side coalition of the doubtful. To distinguish itself as Britain's only haven for the Euro-coy, the Euro-tentative, the Euro-hesitant, the Euro-sceptic and the downright Euro-phobic alike (a range which embraces about three-quarters of the British population), all the Conservative party needs to say is 'no'. 'No' means `not now'. As to the future Mr Hague should remark that he is not a prophet.

There is no need for a 'never'. We now have a government preparing to push us towards monetary union straight after the coming general election. Only one response is needed to make common cause between all those different types who, for so many different reasons, think this would be unwise. Just say no. Full stop. For every qualifying clause that Mr Hague strings along after that no, he loses a potential group of supporters. If he says `not for a decade or more' he loses the likes of me, the Euro-hesitant, who are undecided over whether a single currency can work.

I would like it to work. For me, a Europe in which we could share a currency and plan our economic destiny together would be a better Europe; it is worth working towards and, if achievable, may eventually be worth ceding a measure of sovereignty to achieve. But I remain unconvinced as the century ends that this is practicable. Better minds than mine are doubtful about the economics.

I am doubtful about the politics: could we achieve a pan-European democratic structure with enough coherence to supervise our new economic masters? Can you have democracy without discourse, and can you have discourse without a common language? Of course, a single currency, a single economic cockpit, might in time create the discourse, and I remain attracted by John Major's idea of a parallel European currency (operating rather as the US dollar does, de facto, in South America). We could test-run the idea. But an irreversible leap now? Too hasty. In short, the Eurohesitants and I are inclined to say no for the moment, but are easily rattled by shouts of 'never'. Mr Hague risks losing us if he appears too much in thrall to a group whom we sense just hate Europe and reject any idea of serious co-operation with Continental countries.

Then there are the Euro-tentatives. These are far more confident of the singlecurrency project, but cautious about the timing. …

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