New currency for a new world
By George Jones, Political Editor
TONY BLAIR yesterday gave his strongest signal that he wants to join the European single currency within four years as he outlined his vision of a new world order rising from the ashes of the terrorist attacks on America.
|Tony Blair delivers his address. 'September 11 marked a turning point in history'|
After months of sending out conflicting messages on the euro, he indicated that he would use his enhanced authority as a war leader and the changed world circumstances since September 11 to argue for greater co-operation with Europe.
Although he pledged to stay "to the last" with America in the battle against terrorism, he told the Labour Party conference in Brighton that Britain should play its full part in shaping Europe's destiny.
A sombre Mr Blair received a standing ovation from delegates, but there was none of the usual triumphalism in the conference hall.
In the most impressive speech he has made as Prime Minister, he prepared the country for military action against Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, saying that the civilised world must defeat the terrorism unleashed by Osama bin Laden.
But he held out a conciliatory hand to the Afghan people. He promised that, if the Taliban were toppled, the international community would work to ensure that the next regime was broad-based, as well as giving aid to help refugees survive the winter.
Mr Blair, who will shortly embark on a new round of shuttle diplomacy to shore up the international coalition against terrorism, emphasised that the allies were not planning a war on Islam.
"The true followers of Islam are our brothers and sisters in this struggle," he said. His 54-minute speech was dominated by the repercussions of the terrorist attacks, the threat of military action and a promise to tighten up extradition laws and overhaul the asylum system to prevent terrorists from exploiting it.
There were strong moral and religious overtones as he proposed a new world order, which he said should be the memorial to those who lost their lives in the attacks on New York and Washington.
Mr Blair said he wanted Britain to play a more active role in tackling international injustice, even suggesting that it would intervene if there was a repetition of the slaughter in Rwanda, when a million people were killed in 1993.
He defended globalisation as a force for good and said the international community, if it chose to do so, could "breathe new life" into the Middle East peace process, resolve conflicts in Africa, combat poverty and address climate change.
He strongly defended the US. The hostile reaction to it from some Left-wing commentators "betrays a hatred of America that shames those who feel it", he said.
Mr Blair's positive tone on the single currency was the biggest surprise of the speech and suggested that he was now prepared to give the leadership on the euro that pro-Europeans have been demanding.
He said Britain should join the euro only if the economic conditions were met - they were fundamental and not just window dressing.
"But if they are met, we should join; and if met in this Parliament, we should have the courage of our argument, to ask the people for their consent in this Parliament."
Downing Street and the Treasury immediately insisted that there had been no change of policy - that an assessment would be carried out within the first two years of the Parliament on whether Britain had met the conditions set by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor.
But it was the first time that Mr Blair had publicly committed himself to calling a referendum before the next election if conditions were right.
Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said he was convinced that Mr Blair had signalled the start of the referendum campaign.
The results of the Treasury's assessment of whether the euro is good for jobs, the City and investment could be made known next year. If positive, a referendum could be held next autumn or in the spring of 2003.
Sterling fell back from its recent eight-month highs against the dollar after Mr Blair's comments on the euro.
It closed 1.25 cents down at $1.4661. It also fell .5p against the euro to 91.62p.