“I wonder how long it can last,” asked David Cameron last night. “I see more trouble ahead.”
He was talking about the Euro, the single currency which has caused such impoverishment in a part of the world traditionally regarded as affluent. “Some countries have seen decades of lost growth,” Cameron noted.
Greece is perhaps the worst victim but the Italians have also suffered as a result of the single currency and the referendum result on Sunday there sent a message about that.
Just because it is a disaster doesn’t not mean that the Euro will be abandoned any time soon.
When he was Conservative leader in 1998, William Hague said entering into the single European currency would be like going into “a burning building with no exits”. That vivid warning has proved right.
This week Hague said that the Euro “has failed even more spectacularly than its critics imagined” and that the “anger and resentment will only intensify” unless some means of escape can be found. “The Euro is going to need a financial Article 50,” he said.
Of course the UK dodged this bullet – but it was a close run thing.
As prime minister, John Major negotiated an opt-out from Britain joining. Also crucial was the late businessman Sir James Goldsmith’s demand that there should first be a referendum before this ultimate EU integration came about.
Goldsmith’s condition was conceded by Major, who included it in the Conservative Party manifesto of 1997 – and then by Tony Blair before the 1997 General Election.
Blair was then caught – there was never felt to be a prospect of winning
such a referendum. The British people wanted to keep the pound. But for a time the threat was very serious.
Yet why has there not been any hint of contrition from those who were so forceful in proposing that we joined?
Tony Blair said opponents of joining the Euro were “foolish and backward”.
Businessman Sir Richard Branson said: “Having a separate currency from the
consumers and competitors of our largest market is a big barrier to success.”
Labour politico Peter Mandelson said: “The fact is that, as long as we are outside the euro, there is little we can do to protect industry against destabilising swings in the value of sterling as they affect Europe – the largest market where we have to earn our living.”
Tory MP Ken Clarke was emphatic: “Britain’s economy will be damaged if we stay
out too long.”
The launch of the “Britain in Europe” campaign in 1999 saw the efforts by the political establishment to take us into the single currency. Opponents were presented as old fashioned and xenophobic. Neil Kinnock said the arguments against joining the Euro would be “demolished”.
Andrew Rawnsley, writing in The Observer, set the tone: “On the pro-Euro side, a grand coalition of business, the unions and the substantial, sane, front-rank political figures. On the other side, a menagerie of has-beens, never-have-beens and loony tunes with only two things in common: their hostility to Europe and their unpopularity in Britain.”
David Aaronovitch in The Independent suggested we “stop listening to the assorted maniacs, buffoons, empire-nostalgists, colonial press tycoons, Save The Groat anoraks and Yorkshire separatists of the Europhobe movement” and join as soon as possible.
As recently as 2014 Lord Heseltine was still at it. “We will join the Euro,” he said. “I have lived through every one of these European arguments where we have resisted at every stage the European direction – and at every stage we have at the end given in and joined.”
The Lib Dems only dropped their support for joining the Euro after joining the Coalition Government in 2010. In his first Budget the new Chancellor George Osborne an announced: “I have abolished the Treasury’s Euro Preparations Unit”.
Until then it still existed.
The year before that election the Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg said: “We have to be open to ideas that might help, including a move into the Eurozone.” He added: “As the depth of the crisis in Britain’s economy becomes ever more apparent, we must start asking if a change to our currency arrangements will need to be part of the profound reconstruction of the British economy in the years ahead.”
Ten years earlier his colleague Chris Huhne had told the Britain in Europe launch that the failure to join the Euro would lead to a collapse of inward investment. While Danny Alexander, who went on to be a Lib Dem cabinet minister, actually had a full time job lobbying for Euro membership.
Will Hutton, Adair Turner and other assorted “experts” co-authored a pamphlet entitled: “Why Britain should join the Euro”.
Lucy Powell, now a Shadow Cabinet member, was the Campaign Director of Britain in Europe. Those on the Advisory Board included Chris Bryant – who is still a Labour MP. Others were Sir Martin Sorrell, Lord Hollick, Niall FitzGerald and John Monks.
Those funding the campaign included Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.
There were the inevitable celebratory endorsements. “This is a ‘coming together’ thing, and we’ve just got to keep going on this project,” said comedian Eddie Izzard.
Some of you may have spotted that many of the same old discredited crew bobbed up again this year to support the Remain campaign.
How much more misery must be inflicted by the Euro before those who wanted us to join admit that had we listened to them there would have been terrible consequences for the British people.
We all make mistakes. But demanding to join the single currency – and disparaging those who disagreed – is pretty high up on the scale.
When will any of them have the grace to apologise?