Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Hague: Twelve Days to Keep the Pound

In a speech in Loughborough to mark Keep the Pound Day the Rt Hon William Hague, Leader of the Conservative Party:

"This election is not just about who will form the next Government. It's also about whether we continue to have a Government that is sovereign in this country. It's about whether we carry on deciding our own affairs at future general elections.

"Yesterday, Tony Blair made his intentions clear. If he is re-elected, he will speed up the process of European integration. He has said that he plans to scrap the pound within two years.

"So we now know where we stand. A Labour Government, with Lib-Dem support, would begin to abolish the pound immediately after its re-election.

"In order to meet his timetable, Mr Blair would accelerate the handover plan he has already started. Britain would have to rejoin the ERM. Businesses would have to prepare for the changeover, throwing out their tills, changing their software, retraining their staff, adopting new accounting methods. The public and private sectors would need to find £36 billion for the conversion: a sum that dwarfs the £8 billion difference between the tax and spending plans of the two parties.

"All this would have to begin right away. It's not a question of waiting until the referendum - even if you believe that the referendum would be free and fair. A Labour Government elected on June 7 would begin to scrap the pound on June 8.

"Because joining the euro is not just a question of changing our notes and coins. It's a question of how we manage our economy. Under Labour, certainly our interest rates and our exchange rates and even our tax rates could be set, not to suit Britain, but to meet Brussels criteria.

"We already know what this can mean in practice. We went through it with the ERM. Then, as now, we were told that the system would mean lower interest rates and that it would help business. Then, as now, opponents were accused of being Little Englanders. But look at what the ERM meant in reality. While we were within the system, interest rates, far from falling, rose to ten and even fifteen per cent; unemployment nearly doubled; record numbers of homes were repossessed.

"We have learned the lesson of the ERM. But Labour seem desperate to repeat it. In order to take us into the euro within two years, they would rejoin the ERM straight after the election. This time, though, there would be no way out. Once in the euro, there is no going back. Whatever the cost to our businesses, to our homeowners, to our taxpayers, we would never again be able to break away.

"Tony Blair wants us to believe that Labour can now be trusted on the economy. But why should anyone else trust him when he so obviously does not trust himself? This must be the first time that a party has sought office by promising to give up the right to govern. If re-elected, Labour would contract out the management of our economy: our interest rates would be set in Frankfurt and our taxes in Brussels.

"I'd be the first to agree that other people would do a better job than Labour have done over the past four years. But those other people should not be the European Central Bank and the European Commission that describes low taxes as "harmful competition".

"If we joined the euro, we would move from being an over-taxed, over-regulated economy to being an even more over-taxed and even more over-regulated economy.

"The real alternative is a Conservative Government that will reduce taxes, cut red tape and promote enterprise. A Conservative Government that will run the economy, not with a view to joining the euro, but in the interests of British growth, British jobs and British prosperity. And a Conservative Government that will be answerable at the ballot box for its record.

"And that is a critical point. Because the joining the euro is not just an economic decision. It could be about democracy itself.

"Tony Blair says he is a fan of John Maynard Keynes. He should remember then Keynes's warning that: "He who controls the currency controls the country".

"Economic management is not some side-issue that ministers get around to in their spare time. It is the primary business of a modern Government. It is largely on the basis of their differences on this central issue that parties draw up manifestos and ask for people's support.

"If key decisions about our interest rates, our exchange rates and then our tax rates as well were made abroad, by people over whom we have no direct control, the electoral process would be diminished. If we join the Euro in the next Parliament there is a serious risk that general elections would no longer mean what they do today.

"So I am not choosing my words lightly when I say that this could be the last general election of its kind. The last time that the people of the United Kingdom are able to elect a Parliament which is supreme in this country.

"This is an issue that ought to transcend party politics. I know that there are many decent, patriotic people who are not natural Conservatives but who are just as concerned as we are about preserving our self-government. People who may be lifelong Labour or Liberal voters, but who want to keep the pound.

"I am appealing to those people this morning. Lend us your vote. Lend us your vote this time, so that your vote will still mean something next time, and the time after, and the time after that. Vote Conservative this one time, so that we can carry on having meaningful general elections in an independent Britain.

"The question of whether we scrap the pound will settle our country's future, possibly for generations. It will determine whether we live in a free and independent country, or whether we become part of a larger bloc.

"It is a question, ultimately, of self-confidence. Do we have faith in our capacity to thrive as an independent country? Or do we feel that we must go along with every new Brussels initiative for fear of being left out?

"Labour and their Liberal sidekicks have no confidence in Britain. They evidently believe that we are too small to survive on our own.

"Too small? We're the fourth largest economy in the world. We're the fourth greatest military power on Earth. We're one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and one of the Group of Eight industrialised nations. We have unparalleled links with the United States, the Commonwealth and the rest of the English-speaking world. How much bigger do we have to be before we can run our own affairs in our own interest?

"I have faith in Britain. I am proud of our past and confident about our future. We are people whose enterprise and energy has touched every Continent; a nation with friends and allies in every part if the world. I simply don't believe that we need to be part of a single European currency to prosper.

"As Michael Portillo said yesterday, you don't maximise your influence by going along with what everyone else is doing. You maximise your influence by showing that you can run a strong and prosperous economy.

"At best joining the euro would involve huge risks in return for uncertain and unspecified gains. At worst, we could find ourselves poorer and less democratic, and be quite unable to do anything about it.

"The mainstream majority in this country understand this. They know that there is nothing negative about wanting to keep the pound. And they resent being called anti-Europeans, isolationists or sceptics simply because they want Britain to work with its neighbours as an independent country.

"In fact, the real sceptics are those who doubt our ability to thrive on our own. It is a normal, natural thing for countries to administer their own economies. And yet, in this country - astonishingly - two of the three parties do not believe that the British people are best placed to run their own affairs. They would remove, forever, our right to tailor our economic policy to suit our own needs.

"Whether we give up that right is the single biggest decision our country has faced since the war. It is a decision faced by every single person who is registered to vote at this election. And it is a decision that we must take in just twelve days.

"Twelve days to save the pound. Twelve days to secure our independence. Twelve days to decide whether our children and grandchildren will inherit the same freedoms that we inherited in our turn.

"Whatever your views, and whatever your normal party allegiance, think about that before you vote. Think about the magnitude of the choice you are making. Think about the fact that once we have scrapped the pound there will be no way to resurrect it. It is your decision: do not take it lightly."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech