Opinion: Bernard Ingham

This is our biggest challenge since 1939 Forget England’s ignominious exit from Euro 2000. Try to put to the back of your mind the horror of 58 illegal immigrants suffocated to death in the back of a Dutch lorry at Dover and the incineration of British backpackers in a Queensland hostel. Instead, focus on this month’s major event: the rising political temperature over the greatest issue confronting the British since the declaration of war in 1939 - whether to join a single European currency.

This is our biggest challenge since 1939 Forget England’s

ignominious exit from Euro 2000. Try to put to the back of your mind the

horror of 58 illegal immigrants suffocated to death in the back of a

Dutch lorry at Dover and the incineration of British backpackers in a

Queensland hostel. Instead, focus on this month’s major event: the

rising political temperature over the greatest issue confronting the

British since the declaration of war in 1939 - whether to join a single

European currency.



The plain fact is that the pressure is now on the British Government

both to be more positive about joining the euro and to engage the nation

in a debate on the issue. The French and Germans told Mr Blair bluntly

in Portugal last week - and the British, not for the first time - that

he cannot prevent the development of a two-speed Europe in which he

would be in the slow lane. And one of Britain’s EU commissioners, Chris

Patten, later called for a public debate because, he said, the vacuum

created by this Government’s failure to open up the argument was being

filled irrationally. I shall ignore the implication that anyone who

opposes a single currency is daft, which is what the elites represented

by Mr Patten would like you to believe.



Instead, what interests me is the PR background to the euro which,

according to the latest MORI poll, is opposed by 72 per cent of Britons.

Economists and statisticians aren’t much help. You can find as many who

say we aren’t ready to join the euro as those who say we are. In any

case, a lot of people think they are irrelevant to the argument since

the issue is a political one. Indeed, fewer and fewer people are

prepared to take so-called experts on trust on any issue. They just seem

like guns for hire, firing off whatever bullets suit the hirer’s

purpose.



Everybody knows that in the end those in favour of joining the euro will

try to make our blood run cold at the economic and industrial

consequences of staying out, regardless as to how well we have done

outside so far, while those who want to remain outside will try to

frighten us to death with the ultimate loss of our sovereignty and

subservience to the German will. The problem for the ordinary voter who

will ultimately have to take the decision is how to establish the facts

to his and her satisfaction.



In my view, this presents a greater problem for the pro-euros than the

anti-euros. This is because there is a widespread view in Britain that

we have been consistently misled about the EU’s destination when it is

armed with a single currency: namely, towards a federal superstate.

Chris Patten thus has a very good PR point: the pro-euro argument simply

cannot be won by a Trappist-like silence That will tend to perpetuate

the feeling that we are being manipulated. So let t’battle commence.



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