Opponents of British entry into the European single currency were welcoming exit polls which suggested that Sweden had given the thumbs down to the euro.

As polls closed, early indications were that Swedes had voted to keep the kronor by a narrow margin of 51.8%-46.2%, in a referendum which took place under the shadow of the murder of fervent europhile Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.

Sweden was one of only three EU nations not to adopt the euro at its launch, and observers had suggested that a Yes vote would add to the pressure on Britain to join.

But supporters of British entry insisted that a No vote in Sweden should not be allowed to delay the calling of a referendum in the UK.

George Eustice, director of the No campaign against British entry, said: "The early indications from Sweden highlight the huge difficulty that the Government would have winning a vote in Britain, where opposition is even higher.

"People in Sweden have seen the serious problems in the eurozone and they are concerned about giving up control of their own economy and compromising public sector investment."

Labour backbencher Chris Bryant, chair of the Labour Movement for Europe, said: "Obviously I would have preferred it if Sweden had voted Yes, but Sweden is Sweden and Britain is Britain and we have a very different economy.

"Many of Sweden's trading partners are not in the euro or even the EU, like Norway, whereas with Britain, more than half of our trade is with euro countries.

"I hope that Britain will be joining the euro as soon as possible, so that we reap the benefits of increased trade and don't risk economic isolation."

Mr Bryant welcomed the result of a separate referendum in Estonia, where voters opted to join the EU by a two-thirds majority.

British poll urged

But supporters of British entry insisted last night that the Swedes' rejection of the euro should not delay a British poll.

The European Commission regretted Sweden's failure to join the euro – insisting the No vote was the nation's loss, rather than Europe's.

A robust statement issued in Brussels said Sweden

was missing out on the chance to be a part of the world's "second-most important" currency.

But the result is a blow to hopes in Brussels that a positive Swedish vote would galvanise the UK and Denmark – the only other non-euro EU nations – into signing up too.

The leader of the UK's Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, also insisted that euro membership was "almost inevitable for Sweden, as well as for the UK and Denmark.

The German leader of the centre-right European People's Party in the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, also regretted the Swedish result.

He said it was now up to those countries already in the single currency zone to continue with the policy of maintaining currency stability, confirming the euro as a world currency: "Only in this way will people be convinced of the value of this new currency" he added.

Powered by Froala Editor