Beckett to announce her support for euro

MARGARET BECKETT is set to defect from the anti-euro lobby and join Tony Blair, Robin Cook and Peter Hain among the Cabinet ministers seeking to take Britain into the single currency.

The Rural Affairs Secretary, previously considered a hardline eurosceptic, is expected to address the Britain in Europe pressure group later this month - making her new allegiance clear. This would leave John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, isolated among ministers who remain opposed to scrapping the pound.

Ms Beckett’s lecture to Britain in Europe, scheduled for 27 February, is unlikely to contain any direct references to joining the euro. It will instead be dominated by broad European issues and the Common Agricultural Policy.

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But in accepting an invitation from the pro-euro lobby group, she will make clear she can no longer be counted in the sceptics’ camp.

Formally, she is expected to adopt the position of Chancellor Gordon Brown, who is officially agnostic on the euro and continually places importance on his five economic tests.

Ms Beckett, who campaigned against European integration during the 1970s and 1980s, has made her name as a loyal Brownite. Opponents of the Chancellor suggest her conversion may hint his mind is also changing.

Mr Blair remains the leading euro supporter in the Cabinet. His friends believe he would like to see Britain’s dominance in the Euro project as his political legacy.

Other enthusiasts are Charles Clarke, Mr Blair’s old neighbour and now party Chairman, Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, and Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary.

Mr Prescott has made it clear he would demand a Cabinet vote before the government decided to hold a referendum.