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The United Kingdom has never sought to adopt the euro as its official currency for the duration of its membership of the EU, and secured an opt-out at the euro's creation via the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Polls have shown that the majority of British people have been against adopting the euro and in a June 2016 referendum the UK voted to withdraw from the European Union, meaning there is virtually no chance of any future adoption. Despite never being a member of the euro, the currency is used in the UK's Cypriot territories and London is home to the majority of the euro's clearing houses.
The United Kingdom entered the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a prerequisite for adopting the euro, in October 1990. The UK spent over £6 billion trying to keep its currency, the pound sterling, within the narrow limits prescribed by ERM, but was forced to exit the programme within two years after the pound sterling came under major pressure from currency speculators. The ensuing crash of 16 September 1992 was subsequently dubbed "Black Wednesday". During the negotiations of the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 the UK secured an opt-out from adopting the euro.
The government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that "five economic tests" must be passed before the government could recommend the UK joining the euro and promised to hold a referendum on membership if those five economic tests were met. Her Majesty's Treasury first assessed five economic tests in October 1997, when it was decided that the UK economy was neither sufficiently converged with that of the rest of the EU, nor sufficiently flexible, to justify a recommendation of membership at that time. Another assessment was published on 9 June 2003 by Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Though maintaining the government's positive view on the euro, the report opposed membership because four out of the five tests were not passed. However, the 2003 document also noted the considerable progress of the UK towards satisfying the five tests since 1997, and the desirability of making policy decisions to adapt the UK economy to better satisfy the tests in future. It cited considerable long-term benefits to be gained from eventual, prudently conducted EMU membership.
The UK would also have to meet the EU's economic convergence criteria (Maastricht criteria) before being allowed to adopt the euro; which at that time the UK's annual government deficit to the GDP was above the defined threshold. The government committed itself to a triple-approval procedure before joining the eurozone, involving approval by the Cabinet, Parliament, and the electorate in a referendum.
Gordon Brown, Blair's successor, ruled out membership in 2007, saying that the decision not to join had been right for Britain and for Europe. In December 2008, José Barroso, the President of the European Commission, told French radio that some British politicians were considering the move because of the effects of the global credit crisis. The office of the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, denied that there was any change in official policy. In February 2009, Monetary Policy Affairs Commissioner Joaquín Almunia said "The chance that the British pound sterling will join: high."
The United Kingdom released new coin designs in 2008 following the Royal Mint's biggest redesign of the national currency since decimalisation in 1971. German news magazine Der Spiegel saw this as an indication that the country has no intention of switching to the euro within the foreseeable future. It is however an unwritten convention that the coin designs should be changed every 40 years to keep the coinage fresh.
In the UK general election 2010, the Liberal Democrats increased their share of the vote, but lost seats. One of their aims was to see the UK rejoining ERM II and eventually joining the euro, but when a coalition was formed between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats agreed that the UK would not join the euro during this term of government. Following the election of a majority-Conservatives government in the subsequent election, a referendum on EU membership itself was held, and lost. With the UK's vote to withdraw from the EU, euro adoption is now a practical impossibility. Even if government and or public opinion were to change, the EU's position is that new third countries would only adopt the euro through membership of the EU. Withdrawal may also negatively impact London's position as a hub for euro clearing
The Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus introduced the euro at the same time as Cyprus, on 1 January 2008. Previously, they used the Cypriot Pound. Since the independence of Cyprus, treaties dictate that British territories in Cyprus will have the same currency as the Republic of Cyprus. These are the only places under British control where the euro is legal tender. They do not issue separate euro coins. Following the British vote to withdraw from the EU in June 2016, Ioannis Kasoulides, Foreign Minister of Cyprus, announced that Cyprus wished to have EU citizen privileges remain for these areas if the UK ceases to be a member.
London is home to three quarters of all euro clearing in the world, to a value of 927bn euro. The second largest hub is Paris, which operates 11% of clearing. In light of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, the EU is looking at whether these operations should be forced to move from London, to within the EU so the activities could be regulated by the European Central Bank.
In June 2003, Gordon Brown stated that the best exchange rate for the UK to join the euro would be around 73 pence per euro. On 26 May 2003 the euro had reached 72.1 pence, a value not exceeded until 21 December 2007. During the final months of 2008, the pound declined in value dramatically against the euro. The euro rose above 80 pence and peaked at 97.855p on 29 December 2008. This compares with its value between March and October 2008, when the value of the euro was about 78 pence, and its value of about 70 pence between April 2003 and August 2007. With the impact of the Global financial crisis of 2008 on the British economy, including failing banks and plunging UK property values, some British analysts stated that adopting the euro was far preferable to any other possible solutions for Britain's economic problems. There was some media discussion about the possibility of adopting the euro. On 29 December 2008, the BBC reported that the euro had reached roughly 97.7p, due to poorer economic forecasts. This report stated that many analysts believed that parity with the euro was only a matter of time.
At that time, some shops in Northern Ireland accepted the euro at parity, causing a large influx of shoppers from across the Irish border. This made some shops the most successful in their company for several weeks. Alex Salmond, the then First Minister of Scotland, called for more Scottish businesses to accept the euro to encourage tourism from the eurozone, noting that this is already done by organisations such as Historic Scotland.
During 2009, the value of the euro against the pound fluctuated between 96.1p on 2 January and 84.255p on 22 June. In 2010 the value of the euro against the pound fluctuated between 91.140p on 10 March and 81.040p on 29 June. On 31 December 2010 the euro closed at 86.075p. A report in Britain's Daily Telegraph argued that the high euro had caused problems in the eurozone outside Germany.
There was a fairly steady decline in the euro rate during 2013, 2014 and 2015 from 85p to 70p. During 2016 the pound declined against several currencies, meaning the euro rose, especially on 24 June 2016 (because of the EU referendum) when the euro rose from 76p to 82p and further the following days.
Before the UK's vote to withdraw, the UK's membership of the euro was always a possibility if the UK decided to drop its opt-out. For this time, considerations on the impact of membership were weighed heavily.
Some believe that removing the United Kingdom's ability to set its own interest rates would have detrimental effects on its economy. One argument is that currency flexibility is a vital tool and that the sharp devaluation of sterling in 2008 was just what Britain needed to rebalance its economy. Another objection is that many continental European governments have large unfunded pension liabilities. They fear that if Britain adopts the euro, these liabilities could put a debt burden on the British taxpayer, though others have dismissed this argument as spurious. One of the underlying issues that stand in the way of monetary union is the structural difference between the UK housing market and those of many continental European countries.
The entry of the UK into the eurozone would have likely resulted in increased trade with the other members of the eurozone. It could also have had a stabilising effect on the stock market prices in the UK. A simulation of the entry in 1999 indicated that it would have had an overall positive, though small, effect in the long term on the UK GDP if the entry had been made with the rate of exchange of the pound to the euro at that time. With a lower rate of exchange, the entry would have had more clearly a positive effect on the UK GDP. A 2009 study about the effect of an entry in the coming years claimed that the effect would likely be positive, improving the stability for the UK economy.
The wording of the question may have varied, but the figures showed that a majority of British people have been consistently against adopting the euro.
|Date||YES||NO||Unsure||Number of participants||Held by||Ref|
|9–10 June 2003||33%||61%||7%||1852||YouGov|||
|10–15 February 2005||26%||57%||16%||2103||Ipsos MORI|||
|11–12 December 2008||24%||59%||17%||2098||YouGov|||
|19–21 December 2008||23%||71%||6%||1000||ICM|||
|6–9 January 2009||24%||64%||12%||2157||YouGov|||
|17–18 April 2010||21%||65%||14%||1433||YouGov|||
|2–4 July 2011||8%||81%||11%||2002||Angus Reid|||
|9–12 August 2011||9%||85%||6%||2700||YouGov|||
|10 August 2012||6%||81%||13%||2004||Angus Reid|||
If the United Kingdom had joined the eurozone, this would also have affected the Crown dependencies and some British overseas territories that also use the pound sterling, or which have a currency on a par with sterling. In the Crown Dependencies, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney pounds all share the ISO 4217 code GBP. In the British Overseas Territories, the Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory and Saint Helena pounds are also fixed so that £1 in the local currency equals £1 in sterling. The British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands do not have their own currencies and use the pound sterling.
When France adopted the euro, so did the French overseas departments and territories that used the French franc. The CFP franc, the CFA franc and the Comorian franc, that are used in overseas territories and some African countries, had fixed exchange rates with the French franc, but not at par – for various historical reasons they were worth considerably less, at 1 French franc = 18.2 CFP francs, 75 Comorian francs or 100 CFA francs. The CFA franc and the Comorian franc are linked to the euro at fixed rates with free convertibility maintained at the expense of the French Treasury. The CFP franc is linked to the euro at a fixed rate.
It was suggested that the sterling zone territories would, in the event of the UK adopting the euro, have four options:
Gibraltar was in a different position, being within the EU as part of the UK's membership. If the UK were to have adopted the euro it might not have been possible to implement an opt-out for Gibraltar or whether it would have had a separate referendum.
Some private sector banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland issue banknotes of their own design. The Banking Act, 2008 amended the rights of Scottish and Northern Irish banks to produce banknotes. This does not apply in Wales which uses Bank of England notes.
In November 1999, in preparation for the introduction of the euro notes and coins across the eurozone, the European Central Bank announced a total ban on the issuing of banknotes by entities that were not national central Banks ('Legal Protection of Banknotes in the European Union Member States'). A move from sterling to the euro would have ended the circulation of sub-national banknotes as all euro banknotes of a given denomination have an identical design. However, as national variation is a requisite of euro coins, it would have remained an option for the Royal Mint to incorporate the symbols of the Home Nations into its designs for the British national sides of euro coinage.
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