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British PM Rallies 'Round Euro

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AP
Britain's two top politicians launched a campaign Tuesday to convince skeptical Britons of the need for closer ties with the European Union — but said there is a long way to go before the country is ready to adopt the single currency.

A day after Treasury chief Gordon Brown said conditions were not yet right for euro entry, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain must be at the political heart of Europe, but the economy would be the deciding factor on whether to give up the pound.

"In the end, the economy has got to be right," Blair said. "It's an economic union."

Blair and Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, spoke at a joint news conference of the potential benefits and pitfalls of the single currency.

"We're not going to do this unless it is the right thing for the country and not unless it entrenches our economic stability rather than putting it at risk," Blair said.

Many Britons are wary of closer ties with the 15-nation European Union. Brown and Blair said they would strive to convince doubters that a strong European relationship was in the national interest.

"In a world that is moving closer together and being transformed by globalization, it would be a cruel denial of our own proper self-interest to cut ourselves adrift from the major strategic, economic and political alliance right on our doorstep," Blair said.

Part of the campaign involves convincing Britons that Europe is moving closer to them, and to Britain's important ally, the United States.

Brown said Monday that Britain would not join the euro until the British economy converged further with those of the 12 euro zone countries. He told the House of Commons that four of the five economic tests he had set for Britain's membership in the euro have yet to be met.

Brown pledged to pursue "radical" reforms — such as adopting the same gauge of inflation as euro zone countries — that would make it possible to reassess the situation within a year, with a referendum on membership following soon after a positive assessment.

Tuesday's news conference was widely seen as a bid to counter claims that the Labor Party government is not fully committed to the EU. It also was a show of solidarity from Blair and Brown — the architects of Labor's 1997 return to power after 18 years — who are widely regarded as political rivals.

Many believe Blair is more eager to join the new currency than his more cautious chancellor.

Brown told British Broadcasting Corp. radio before the news conference that he was confident Britain would make "substantial progress" toward joining the euro in the next year.

But, he said Tuesday, "We've still got a long way to go."

Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said Brown's assessment was a delaying tactic by a government that knew it would lose a referendum on euro entry.

"I don't believe the government is in any way going to be having a referendum, because the truth is that they are running scared of public opinion," he told BBC television.

Britain, like Denmark and Sweden, sat on the sidelines when the euro was launched across Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain for financial transactions on Jan. 1, 1999. The 12 nations started using euro coins and bills three years later.