The former mayor used to say it was his mission to get Britain to join the euro. We asked him what he thinks now
It’s normally pretty hard to get Ken to shut up about his pet policies, but there’s one issue he’s gone silent on. The euro.
This despite the former mayor once being a fanatical supporter of the single currency.
He took great delight in accusing sceptics of being backward. At his inaugural speech in 2000 he said: “London would be devastated if it became clear that over a decade we weren’t going to join” and the UK economy would be “permanently impaired” without membership. He declared: “I intend to use my period as mayor to explain fully that membership of the euro is not irrelevant to, but is vital for, the medium and long-term interests of London.”
He would later forecast: “I don’t think there is a split in the government about whether or not to join the euro, the issue is simply at what time we tell the British people we are going to join the euro.”
And four years later during his second term he said: “As you know, I’m in favour of joining the euro and adopting European Summer Time. If that responsibility were devolved to London, I’d have people changing their money and their watches when they cross the border at Surrey.”
So at the mayoral hustings I spoke to Ken and asked him whether he was still adamant the UK should join the euro. He replied:
“If you go back and look at the Socialist Economic Bulletin which we published from 1990 to 2000 we made two qualifications. One, you had to have a real mechanism for the redistribution of wealth between richer and poorer nations, and that’s why it hasn’t really functioned as it should, and they’ve got the problems now. The other thing I was always clear about was that for the euro to work it needed to be a small core of very similar economies.
“So Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, just about France, and just about England could have done it with the Nordics. But once they included just about anyone who came along it was bound to get the sort of problems we’ve got now. So it was a project where politics overcame the economics.”
This is a weak defence. If only the richer nations should be permitted to join then how could there be a transfer between the rich and poor members? And Ken was still advocating euro membership in 2004, long after countries like Greece had adopted it, and when it was clear that Eastern European nations would be joining too. I put these objections to him. He shrugged.
“But still with those two qualifications.”
Adding: “If only I was prime minister we would have got it right.”
PS: And Boris?
The current mayor made his name as a eurosceptic journalist based in Brussels.
He was the first to report the idea of fiscal union and banged on about bendy bananas and quotas until the Commission was forced to set up a myth busting team to combat him.
He opposed Britain’s membership of the euro. And as a fledgling MP in 2003, he demanded a referendum should any move be taken to join. He told The Independent: “I think it’s an issue of major constitutional importance. It’s giving the management of monetary policy to an institution outside Britain’s control.
“There are arguments in favour of a single currency, but they are outweighed by those against. I firmly believe that it’s an issue that is well capable of comprehension by the man in the street and it can be explained very simply. And I think that people should have their say.”
He remains opposed to euro membership.
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