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  1. Long reads
26 February 2007updated 27 Sep 2015 5:20am

Come back, euro – all is forgiven

In one area, David Cameron refuses to budge from old certainties - the single currency. Here, a Tory

By Ivan Massow

As a businessman and friend to the Notting Hill set, I helped found the “No Euro” group because I felt the UK could do better independently. I have become gradually and painfully aware that I was wrong. My concerns about the currency never came to fruition. Now the pound looks antiquated and sets us uncomfortably apart from the rest of Europe. The euro has become the world’s favourite – and most stable – currency and no country has lost its identity.

We need, therefore, to reopen the debate, for many reasons. First of all, it would make economic sense to consumers not to have to change money when they travel. France and Spain are not just the world’s top holiday destinations, they’re ours, too. If only half of us visit mainland Europe just once a year, at a 3 per cent exchange commission, that is a conversion tax of £5.4bn alone.

Britain is magnificently overpriced. With transparency, “never knowingly undersold” John Lewis would be handing out refunds constantly. Its Levi’s 501 jeans at €96.46 compare badly to those priced €75 on the mainland. Calvin Klein’s perfume at €80 is €10 cheaper there. A trendy Mandarina Duck wheelie bag at €244.78 in John Lewis? Just €185 in Barcelona. Catch a movie later at the Odeon, and that €14 seat would be half the price.

There is no evidence to suggest that our “special relationship” with the US would deteriorate. We have never been invited to join the dollar. However, our special relationship with Europe would improve beyond measure, putting us back in lead position. Moreover, despite Gordon Brown’s business regulations and taxes (and the euro has had no effect on individual countries’ tax regimes), most companies hoping to trade in Europe would prefer to build their factories and financial centres here, rather than the employer’s nightmare that is the rest of Europe. The Irish have learned this. Weren’t they considered third world before the euro?

And what of nationalism? Despite practically running the British cabinet, the Scots are angling for a break-up. One thing dividing us is our currency. The pound is too English in Scotland, while the Scottish pound is anathema in English kebab shops. A euro, endowed with respective national imagery for the English, Welsh and Scots, would bring us together. How many of us notice the difference between a German eagle and a Spanish King Juan Carlos euro coin? But they do, and we will.

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No hiding place

Switching currency would also provide a welcome nightmare for money launderers. Bank robbers and drug dealers would have to bank it to convert it. We are seeing this legitimising effect further afield, as former Soviet republics choose the euro over the rouble. How many of our criminals would be able to hide away in Spain with a truly single currency?

Then there are mortgage rates. House price rises would be tempered by the transparency of sharing a currency. But eurozone mortgage rates have, on the whole, been almost half ours. By pushing rate decisions further away, they become so depoliticised that they just become the price of borrowing – not something that our bank changes every time our “local” chancellor messes up. Low interest rates make us think more seriously about saving. And we need to save.

However, the most important consideration has to be the future of British businesses. None benefits at present from clinging on to the pound. On the contrary, I cannot think of a business that would not benefit if exchange commissions and fluctuating currencies disappeared. The euro has surpassed the dollar to become the world’s number-one choice. If you are building your product in China using oil from Iran (from next month) your partners will all trade in euros. Currency risk and exchange costs disappear.

In short, the pound makes no sense for anyone wanting to see a United Kingdom; for anyone going on holiday anywhere (I took euros to India in January as if they were dollars); for businesses wanting to relocate to Britain; for anyone interested in stamping out fraud and ill-gotten gains; for any business operating in the UK. And the longer we hold off, the weaker our entry will be.

Gordon Brown wanted to join the euro for the wrong reasons and gave up the fight for the wrong reasons. He began by seeing it as a way of federalising Britain, and ended up being corrupted by our little-Britain Treasury and the ultimate corrupter – power itself.

David Cameron, before he, too, allows the establishment to rein in idealism, must shed the Conservatives’ entrenched hostility and step up to the debate. The things a new prime minister can do, before “they” get to you, are almost the only things worth being prime minister for. The euro is now inevitable because it is the best option available. There is no more time to waste.

Ivan Massow is an entrepreneur and Conservative Party member

Martin Bright returns next week

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