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So where to now?

Posted by Richard Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The announcement in the Queen’s speech that the government will make the Bill to give effect to the EU constitution subject to a referendum rather dispels rumours (or fears) that the government will not actually hold a referendum. As it stands, the government will not be able to ratify the constitution unless and until it has held a referendum.

The fact the a referendum is now a reality will inevitably lead to earnest discussions as to how to handle the "no" campaign, although there is not much evidence of any such from the self-appointed "Vote No" campaign.

The central question, however, will be how to prevent the "yes" campaign from turning the referendum into an "in-out" issue, perpetuating the "scare" that a "no" vote will lead inevitably to Britain leaving the EU.

Actually, this is not as much of a problem as is made out. The response to the question: "will a 'no' vote force us to leave the EU", is the disarmingly simple counter: "unfortunately not".

There are three likely outcomes to a "no" vote: another Intergovernmental Conference, which produces a new, revised constitutional treaty; the status quo, where the "colleagues" decide to stick with the existing treaties; or a fundamental renegotiation of the existing treaties, which would also require an IGC.

There is, also, the other option that some of the member states would go ahead with further integration, using the "enhanced co-operation" provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty, as modified by Nice.

As to the actual outcome, none of us is in a position say with any certainty what will happen. The best one can say is that, if the British public do vote "no" to the constitution, the game is wide open. A "no" result would not be the end, but the beginning of a process where the real debate on our relationship with Europe can really start.

A "yes" vote, on the other hand, would close down the debate and saddle us with a construct that perpetuates the tired, corrupt model of the existing EU. It means a vote of confidence for the EU as it stands, warts and all.

On the other hand, a "no" vote does not necessarily mean a rejection of European union - still less a rejection of "Europe". It means we reject the attempts by the European political élites to impose their "vision" of what our relationship with other European countries should be.

We can say, with confidence, therefore, that the "democratic" option is to vote "no", even if you are actually in favour of some form of European union. Then the real debate can start.