by RAY FLEMING

THE most casual inspection of the text of the so–called joint statement on the euro, issued at short notice by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown on Friday afternoon, shows that it must have been put together in great haste. Indeed, it appears to be a doctored version of the minutes of a Cabinet meeting rather than a carefully drafted joint statement. In other words, this has all the appearance of a hurriedly planned pre–emptive strike by the Government to prevent the weekend press, the Sunday newspapers in particular, from continuing to allege that the Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer are poles apart in their approach to Britain's possible membership of the euro. The strike will be reinforced this morning when Mr Brown does the rounds of the television studios to ram home the message that he and Mr Blair are “presenting a totally united front” (to quote from the joint statement). The procedure being followed for Cabinet consideration of the single most important issue facing the Government is perfectly normal: the Treasury, the responsible department, has conducted a rigorous analysis of the issues which the Cabinet will discuss; the Prime Minister will take the sense of the discussion (there is no voting in Cabinet) and Parliament will be informed of the outcome. Mr Blair and Mr Brown have only themselves to blame that what should have been a straightforward and unified approach to a difficult problem has become so personalised. Their failure to settle their private differences may yet cost the Labour Party, and the country, dear.