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The United Kingdom and the Euro — Who Is Fogged In?

Will the United Kingdom ever be ready to fully integrate into the European Union?

January 3, 2002

Will the United Kingdom ever be ready to fully integrate into the European Union?

For historic and geographic reasons, Britain has always liked to see itself as distinct from the European continent. A key element of being British is the British pound. For many Britons, giving up the pound sterling is tantamount to giving up British traditions. Our new Read My Lips feature examines Britain’s struggle with Europe and its new currency — the euro.

What is so surprising about Britain’s stand on the euro from a historic perspective?

“By not joining European Monetary Union, Great Britain for the first time in history voluntarily leaves the European continent to Germany. In the past, the British would have gone to war in order to prevent something like that from happening.”

(Platow Brief, July 1997)

What then is Europe’s predicament?

“Europe used to worry about the German question. Now, it has a British question.”

(Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford historian, June 2001)

What is Britain’s main economic concern?

“We will not take risks with Britain’s hard-won stability.”

(Gordon Brown, British Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the prospects of the UK joining the euro soon, June 2001)

What is the opinion of the ‘iron lady’?

“I would never be prepared to give up our own currency.”

(Former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, May 2001)

Has this view been echoed by her protégé?

“I don’t know what is supposed to be patriotic about British interest rates set in Frankfurt, which would be the result of joining the euro.”

(William Hague, former British Conservative Party leader, May 2001)

What is the problem with the new currency?

“The euro is an unproven piece of political dogma. We want to keep the pound.”

(Michael Portillo, former British Conservative Party shadow chancellor, October 2000)

Is the Conservative Party united in this view?

“We are already seeing the downside for future investment of dithering around — and failing to make our minds up about the euro. To have a fit of nervous doubt about whether to join the modern world would, in my opinion, be disastrous.”

(Kenneth Clarke, former Conservative Party Chancellor of the Exchequer, July 2001)

Is there a general dislike of things European among some Britons?

“We have had Europe rammed down our throats for 30 years — and I think a lot of people are just sick to the back teeth of it.”

(British welder, September 2000)

What else could be a reason?

“After 25 years of British membership of the European Union, the British are still coming to terms with the political consequences.”

(Financial Times commentary, October 1997)

What is Europe’s reaction to British evasiveness?

“British negativism on Europe has lost its capacity to impress — or deter.”

(Financial Times commentary, January 1995)

Were there any early warnings about what would happen?

“Before long, all Europe, save England, will have one money — and England be left standing with another money.”

(Walter Bagehot, Editor of the Economist over 130 years ago, on the creation of a Latin Monetary Union between France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Greece in 1861)

Under what circumstances would the British join?

“We should be only part of the single currency if the economic conditions are met. But if they are met, we should join — and, if they are met in this parliament we should have the courage of our argument to ask the British people for consent in this parliament.”

(British Prime Minister Tony Blair, October 2001)

What would be the prerequisite economic conditions?

“The assessment as to whether it is in the British national economic interest or not will be comprehensive and rigorous. There are five economic tests:

1. Sustainable convergence between Britain and the economies of a single currency

2. Whether there is sufficient flexibility to cope with economic change

3. The effect on investment

4. The impact on our financial services industry

5. Whether it is good for employment.”

(Gordon Brown, British Chancellor of the Exchequer, November 2001)

Can Great Britain ultimately ignore the single European currency?

“Let’s be clear: In or out, we are all affected by the euro.”

(British Prime Minister Tony Blair, January 1999)

Would the kingdom benefit from the euro?

“I am in favor of the single currency if it is in Britain’s interest. A well-functioning single currency with the right terms for British entry could well be in Britain’s interest.”

(Peter Hain, Britain’s Minister for Europe, June 2001)

Could British ambiguity backfire?

“The UK’s decision not to join the euro from the start may be the European tragedy of the present generation of British leaders.”

(Yves-Thibault de Silguy, former EU Commissioner for Financial and Monetary Affairs, July 1999)

Do some miss a point?

“No one ever explains that if you are out of the euro, you are out of the whole show.”

(Sir Edward Heath, former British Prime Minister, May 2001)

And finally, what could endear the euro to the Brits in the end?

“I’m all for the euro. We are either going to be in Europe — or be under the wing of the Americans. And I think we want to be in Europe.”

(British picture framer and art dealer, December 2001)