Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Mr Blair Won't Do It

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Mr Blair Won't Do It

Article excerpt

MR GORDON BROWN'S dampening words yesterday, suggesting that an early referendum on the euro is unlikely, reflect the realities they face. Early this year, some pro-European visitors to Downing Street gained the impression that Mr Blair had steeled himself for this huge decision in 2002, to 'secure his place in history'. Yet no sensible Prime Minister would hold a vote unless confident he could win it. The low turnout at the recent general election, together with Ireland's rejection of the Nice Treaty in a referendum, added up to bad news for pro-Europeans. They suggest that in a euro vote here, there would be a low turnout. The passionate antis - of whom there are plenty - could ballot more enthusiastically than the lukewarm supporters. Mr Blair could easily be humiliated. Second, the economic news looks increasingly worrying. The euro continues to weaken. Inflation figures are up. Europe faces a danger of stagflation, even before the inevitable months of chaos that will accompany the introduction of euro notes and coins in January. It is unlikely that in 2002 the euro-zone will look the sort of bouncing, fast-growing enterprise the British people would want to join. The domestic political prospect looks no more comfortable. It is a reflection of realism, not pessimism, to anticipate that two years from now, the electorate's impatience with public services is still likely to outstrip the Government's ability to improve them.

Popular anger will be rising. People may also be feeling less prosperous, as the shine comes off the economy. It is likely that the Government will need to raise taxes.

Knowing all this, how could Mr Blair or Mr Brown be impatient to take the huge gamble of overcoming public resistance to join the euro? Mr Blair may yet decide in, say, 2003 that the huge challenge of reforming the public services is going well enough to open another front, and have his referendum.

But for now, the odds seem tilted against euro membership before the next election. 'Wait and see' was Mr John Major's only really sensible policy as Prime Minister. How lucky for Mr Blair's Government that this option survives. …

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