YESTERDAY in this space we made the assumption that Peter Mandelson's positive remarks last weekend about an early referendum on British membership of the European single currency reflected the Prime Minister's position. We felt justified in doing so since Mr Mandelson had concluded his statement by saying, “I suspect this is Mr Blair's view too.” One might think that even a twice-resigned former minister would be careful not to claim to represent the Prime Minister's views without being reasonably certain that he had understood them corrrectly. However, nothing is ever simple when Mr Mandelson is involved. Yesterday Downing Street took the unusual step of volunteering a statement which was clearly intended to dissociate Tony Blair from his former minister's statement; it said that those keen to speculate on British membership of the euro should calm down and criticised the reports of Mr Mandelson's words because, “They are fed by people who feed them and not by people who know what is going on.” So now we know. Or do we? The likelihood is that the Treasury's five tests will not be conclusively positive and that in May Mr Brown will give a “not yet” verdict on membership which the Prime Minister will probably accept reluctantly, knowing that this will push a decision beyond the next general election. We do not have to revise our opinion given yesterday that for many reasons an earlier referendum would be extremely difficult to win.


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