This is not a topic that looms large in saloon bar conversations, but it will be a key issue at the general election.
That is why the ‘ayes’ and the ‘noes’ in this debate are determined to maintain the momentum, even during August, when politicians are supposed to keep quiet.
William Hague and his front-bench cohorts will not allow the government to forget the splits in the Cabinet on this issue. But the Tories will be exploiting this period to play on the traditional instincts to ‘keep the pound’, repeating the argument that once Britain signs up, they can kiss goodbye to independence. It will, they warn, reduce parliament to the status of a county council.
For the government, the heat has been temporarily taken off the euro, largely because of the leaked memorandums and the chancellor’s comprehensive spending review bonanza.
But its own euro problem has not gone away, nor will it until the referendum on the issue which, if Labour wins the general election, will probably take place early in the next parliament.
The prime minister, who is faithfully reproducing John Major’s wait-and-see policy, is displeased with the ill-concealed enthusiasm for entry on the part of Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Mandelson, and the foreign secretary, Robin Cook. Cook in particular was given a dressing-down for having described Britain’s entry as ‘inevitable’. When the campaign starts, ministers will be able to pursue their own lines, but now they are supposed to support Blair.
But the full intensity of the internal party strife over the euro will be bared for all to see at the party conferences in September and early October.
Former prime minister, Sir Edward Heath, and two ex-cabinet ministers, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, are likely to spearhead the europhiles’ heavy attack on Hague. At the same time, arch europhobes like Lord Shore will come to verbal blows with people like Robin Cook at the Labour conference.
The scene is set for some serious bloodletting. – Chris Moncrieff is senior political analyst at PA News.
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