Hague: Two weeks to save the £

TORY leader William Hague last night stepped up his fight to make the General Election a referendum on the European single currency – just as Tony Blair tried to defuse the issue and outflank the Tories on Europe.

Mr Hague yesterday warned voters that they had “two weeks to save the pound” – a re-elected Labour government “and their Lib-Dem sidekicks” would begin taking Britain into the euro the day after the election, he claimed.

In a speech to a Tory rally in Manchester, Mr Hague yesterday hammered home his view that the crucial decision on the euro could not be relegated to a post-election referendum, saying: “It is a choice that we face, not in two years, but in two weeks.”

Mr Hague, who cited a report that ditching the pound could cost Britain 36bn, suggested that a referendum on the euro would be rigged by Labour and later told Channel 4 News that a Tory defeat on June 7 “would probably mean that the pound was sunk”.

However Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday deliberately sought to make Europe, not the euro, an election issue as he portrayed the Tories as an isolationist party that would not fight for Britain’s real interests on the Continent, in contrast to the “forward-looking patriotism” of New Labour.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Mr Blair said the Tories’ rejection of even the option of the single currency was “isolationism” and not standing up for British jobs and influence.

He also stressed that the final decision on entering the euro would be “with the British people in a referendum”.

The Prime Minister also countered Tory claims that he was contemptuous of Britain’s history by stressing how the country must never try to “jettison” its long past.

But he also emphasised Britain’s “ancient European roots”, a history which went back to St Augustine’s mission to Kent 1,400 years ago and “perhaps even to the landing of Caesar’s legions 600 years before that”.

The Prime Minister also insisted that for Britain, the so-called choice between the USA and Europe was “a fundamentally false one”.

“We are stronger in Washington if we are seen to be leading in Europe,” he said.

British jobs and investment would be jeopardised as the Tories concentrated not on British interests, but their own divisions. “That is not patriotism. It is folly,” said Mr Blair.

Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo last night hit back by saying “the moderate majority will disagree that it is patriotic to scrap Britain’s currency and subject our economy to a single European interest rate”.

But Yorkshire millionaire Paul Sykes, a fierce Eurosceptic now backing the UK Independence Party (UKIP) bid to pull Britain out of the European Union entirely, yesterday claimed both political parties were lagging behind the majority of the British public, who wanted withdrawal from Europe.

Mr Sykes, the star guest at a London rally of UKIP which is fielding 51 candidates in Yorkshire and over 400 nationwide, said that the UK was no longer an independent country and warned that if the currency went, it was “bye-bye Britain”.

Entrepreneur Mr Sykes called for a referendum on continued membership of the EU, but accused Tony Blair of preparing to use his and other taxpayers’ money in a bid to “con” the British public in a referendum on ditching the pound.