Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the EU and UK are entering “the last week or so” of “substantive” post-Brexit trade negotiations. With the Brexit transition period set to end in little more than a month’s time, Mr Raab suggested talks might soon be reaching a conclusion. However, he called on the EU to accept a “point of principle” on fisheries, an issue he described as having been a “major bone of contention” in reaching a deal.
Face-to-face negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU recently resumed after the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his team had been forced to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test among their number.
Speaking in London on Sunday afternoon, Mr Barnier said the negotiations were an “ongoing process”, adding: “Let us work, let us work.”
As the clock ticks down and tensions rise, unearthed reports reveal how former Prime Minister Tony Blair masterminded a secret plot to pave the way for Britain to join the euro while he was in Number 10.
Mr Blair sanctioned a covert group to prepare for a referendum on the single currency during his second term in office.
Brexit outrage: Tony Blair led secret plot for Britain to join euro
He is alleged to have gone behind the back of some of his colleagues, including his rival Gordon Brown.
It is understood that Mr Blair was desperate to avoid his Chancellor’s disapproval which would have scuppered his plan.
The extraordinary details lift the lid on how determined Mr Blair was to join the euro in 2002 and 2003.
Peter Hain, who was then Europe Minister and part of the pro-euro group, made the disclosures in his autobiography Outside In, which was published in 2012.
Mr Hain revealed that in the middle of 2002 he “talked discreetly to key pro-Europe individuals about raising funds for communications research, focus groups, opinion polling and detailed research” to be conducted by the late Labour pollster Philip Gould.
The operation needed substantial funds and had to be done very carefully, at arm’s length from Mr Brown, wrote Mr Hain.
Mr Hain feared exposure about organising a “shadow” euro campaign and also knew that Mr Brown would not approve.
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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown
However, he said the purpose was not to undermine Mr Brown, even though he admitted he “would have felt that the credibility of his economic judgment had been called into question”.
Mr Blair told Mr Hain on a plane on their return from a European summit in the early spring of 2002 that the referendum had “got to be in this Parliament”.
Mr Hain recalled that Mr Blair “was absolutely clear that the politics of it necessitated that”.
He added: “It was a question of getting the economics right and obviously squaring Gordon Brown.”
He said that research showed a euro referendum was winnable, although achieving victory would have been really tough.
Spin doctor Peter Mandelson was enlisted to join the project, Mr Hain said.
He added: “Despite being the best qualified to run a ‘Yes for Europe’ campaign, he would also have become the best target for opponents – which he readily acknowledged. Nevertheless I couldn’t envisage running a ‘Yes for Europe’ campaign without Peter Mandelson involved in some key way.”
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Former Cabinet Minister David Owen
The idea of launching a “Yes for the euro” campaign, “quite independently from the Labour party and certainly from the Government”, was also floated.
But Mr Hain admitted: “The dilemma was how to maintain control over an organisation that had to be independent of Labour.”
Planning was eventually halted after Mr Brown declared that Britain was not ready to join the euro due to insufficient convergence between the economies.
Tory MP Peter Bone said at the time: “It is unbelievable to think that Tony Blair was going to such lengths to keep it secret.
“He wanted to take Britain into the euro and it is such a shame the Labour party don’t admit it is their policy to do so now.”
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Lord David Owen exposed Mr Blair’s obsession with taking the UK into the monetary union while serving as Prime Minister.
The former Foreign Secretary and SDP co-founder said: “The EU will come unstuck in a big way and the big danger for this is the eurozone.
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“Some people know I am a convinced European, in the sense that I thought the Common Market was a perfectly acceptable thing.
“I grew very worried about it when we got the eurozone.
“Instantly, I thought ‘you can’t run a currency unless you are a country’.
“That has been proven. I have a house in Greece and what I saw there in the last 10 years made me realise it would have been complete madness for us to join the eurozone.”
Lord Owen noted: “There is no doubt that Tony Blair would have taken us in tomorrow.”
During his years as Prime Minister, the former Labour leader made one of the strongest cases for the country to adopt the single currency and often claimed it would have been a “betrayal” of Britain’s national interest to stay out of the monetary union.
The Labour peer explained: “Ed Balls would have stopped him if he had the power.
“But not Gordon Brown. He would have been bought off by Blair.
“We stopped going into the eurozone because of Iraq – that’s the truth that matters.
“It would have been easily been done if Number 10 got what they called the Baghdad bounce.
“There was no Baghdad bounce, therefore there was no eurozone referendum.
“I think we have escaped with our lives.”
In the early Noughties a false recovery signal was referred to as the Baghdad bounce after the rise in popularity that both George W Bush and Tony Blair enjoyed following the fall of Baghdad in the Iraqi War.
However, that popularity waned somewhat later when it became clear that pulling allied troops out of Iraq was likely to take longer than the public had first anticipated.
In 2003, Mr Blair sustained significant political damage from the debate over Iraq.
His personal rating dropped through the floor to minus 20 points – the lowest level since the petrol crisis.