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Final clash before UK election

May 9, 2001
Web posted at: 1:24 PM EDT (1724 GMT)

LONDON, England -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Opposition leader William Hague have clashed during their last confrontation in Parliament before the country's general election.

Britain's entry into the European single currency was highlighted by Hague as an issue that he said Blair had deceived the country about during his party's four-year term.

With both sets of supporters roaring them on, Hague said the "central deception" of the last election was that Blair stated then that he "loved the pound" before preparing to join the single currency.

"Isn't the central deception at this election that you pretend to give people a choice while planning to bounce them into the euro," Hague said.

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"Doesn't that leave the only choice for people who want a straight and honest approach to Europe, to support the Conservative party?"

Blair repeatedly insisted the final say on the euro would rest with voters in a referendum.

"In principle we are in favour of joining, in practice the economic conditions have to be met. We will give the final say to the British people in a referendum," he declared.

Meanwhile, the first opinion poll since Blair called the general election showed Labour on course to increase its House of Commons majority.

The NOP poll for the Daily Express newspaper recorded a 20-point lead for Labour over the main opposition Conservative Party, with Blair's party on 51 percent.

If that margin of victory was reproduced on June 7, Labour could secure a majority of as much as 255 -- an improvement of 76 on its current 179-seat advantage.

Despite the poll, Blair vowed not to be complacent, telling members of his party there would be "a fight and struggle every day until June 7," election day.

Labour has never had two full terms in power in a century dominated by Conservative governments.

Finance Minister Gordon Brown said Labour would not put economic stability at risk although over $50 billion pounds would be allocated to schools, hospitals and transport.

"We will stay the course of (economic) stability because it is the foundation of everything we do -- stability yesterday, today, and tomorrow," Brown declared.

Labour would outline its goals for Europe next week, Brown said.

Blair told his MPs that while the Tories were "headed for the exit door" of Europe, it was important that Britain should remain "engaged and not isolated."

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