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
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
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.