At Prime Minister's questions yesterday the greatest Labour lie of all was finally laid bare. For the past four years Tony Blair has been trying to con the British people into believing that at the next election the euro would not be an issue. He has sought to hide behind his vague and meaningless five economic tests. And he has attempted to deceive the public by refusing to talk about his real intentions, by trying to silence his cabinet colleagues and by pretending that any decision on the euro is way off in the future.
Time after time, those who have sought to expose his deception have been branded scaremongers. Those who have questioned Tony Blair's integrity on this issue have been smeared as paranoid and extremist. Those who have asked Tony Blair to come clean have been falsely accused of wanting to take Britain out of the European Union.
Now, Tony Blair's strategy has been shot to tatters. He has finally been forced to admit what we have known all along but he has previously not dared to say. Yesterday in the Commons, in answer to my questions, he stated in the starkest terms not only that Labour are committed to scrapping the pound but also that if they are re-elected they will seek to scrap it within two years.
The position could now hardly be clearer. Under Labour's plans, the British pound, the currency that for centuries has been both the symbol and reality of our national independence, has two years left to live. A second term of this Labour Government will mean that 2003 is the last year we will see the pound.
The decision whether or not to abandon our currency is the most crucial decision that this country will ever have to take in peacetime. And the choice between the parties has never been more clearly expressed. It is between a Labour Government that will scrap the pound, or a Conservative Government that guarantees unequivocally to keep the pound.
But the people of Britain should not be under any illusions. The choice will not be made in two years time. It could be taken in as little as two months time. The next General Election will be the real battle to save the pound.
It will be the real battle to save the pound because we all know that despite Tony Blair's promises he simply cannot be trusted to hold a referendum that is fair and which gives people a proper choice.
We know it because of our experience of a Prime Minister and a Government that live by spin and distortion. We know it from our experience of a Prime Minister and a Government that thrive on deceit and falsehood. And we know because of our experience of a Prime Minister and a Government that will do everything in their power to fix the outcome.
Tony Blair has already sought to deny a level playing field in any referendum by rigging the spending limits to ensure that parties supporting entry into the euro can spend significantly more than the parties that want to keep the pound. As one of his own Ministers admitted, the Act 'would not ensure that each side in a referendum was subject to the same overall limit on expenditure, and there is no pretence that our proposals are intended to create a level playing field in that sense'.
Tony Blair has already sought to fix the outcome of the referendum by seeking to make British membership of the euro appear inevitable. That is why he has spent millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, and forced businesses to spend millions of pounds of their own money on the National Handover Plan.
Tony Blair has already sought to fix the outcome of the referendum by ensuring that he will have the power to rig any question that is put to the British people. That is why he rejected our proposals that the fairness of any question in future referendums should be determined by the independent Electoral Commission. Even now Tony Blair refuses to come clean about what question the Government intends to ask. And he will not say whether the referendum will be held before the Government has negotiated the terms of entry or if it will be held after the terms of entry are known.
Tony Blair has already sought to fix the outcome of the referendum by misrepresenting the issue of joining the euro as one of whether Britain remains in or out of the EU itself. This is despite the fact that there is no connection whatever between staying out of the euro and coming out of the EU, and still less any link between keeping the pound and failing to continue enjoying the benefits of the single market.
And we know that Tony Blair will seek to fix the outcome of the referendum because over the past four years he has shown himself to be a compulsive serial fixer of elections. That is why he sought to rig the selection process for Labour candidate for the Mayor of London. And it is the reason why at the same time as proclaiming the merits of devolution he tried to fix the outcome of the selection process for First Secretary in the Welsh Assembly.
It is for all these reasons that Tony Blair simply cannot be trusted with a referendum on the euro. And that is why the election is the last chance the British people will have to keep the pound.
At the election, the Conservative Party will be fighting tooth and nail to keep the pound. We will be fighting to keep the pound because we believe it is in our national interest to maintain the flexibility to run our economy to suit British interests.
We will be fighting to keep it because it is common sense to see how a single currency with a single interest rate works in good times as well as bad. And we will be fighting to keep the pound because above all we want to be able to assess how ultimately it will affect our ability as a nation to govern our own affairs.
So this week at least, Tony Blair has done us all a great favour. By coming clean about his plans to scrap our currency he has placed the euro at the very top of the political agenda and at the centre of the coming General Election campaign.
It is the real battle to keep the pound and it is a battle that the Conservative Party, backed by the great mainstream majority of the British people, fully intends to win.