Wednesday, April 13, 2005

No UK referendum?

The Independent this morning ran what, from the perspective of this evening, looks very much like a "flier".

Its headline was: "Blair to fight for 'yes' vote on Europe", with the claim by Colin Brown, deputy political editor, that Blair would "take the biggest gamble of his premiership today by committing the Government to fight for a 'yes' vote in the referendum on the European constitution."

That much was hardly earth-shattering news, but what made the story interesting was Brown's elaboration: "Some Labour candidates," he wrote, "said they suspected that the Prime Minister's determination to go ahead with the referendum regardless of the French referendum result at the end of next month could be Mr Blair's exit strategy."

Blair, we are told, "faces an uphill task to convince the British electorate to support the new constitution, and ministerial colleagues fear it will become a chance to give Mr Blair a "bloody nose" after the election." It is on that basis, that Brown hangs his story that "some of Mr Blair's allies believe he may be using it to prepare for his own departure earlier than expected."

However, nothing in today's manifesto launch in any way suggested that Blair was preparing to put himself on a line for the referendum, making the Independent story just so much speculation (now, that’s really unusual).

On the other hand, our sources tell us that Blair is looking to a "no" vote in the French referendum as an excuse for not holding a referendum in the UK. In many ways, this is the obvious course of action for, if the French had voted "no" what would be the point of a British "yes"?

Certainly, no politician could be expected to go out of his way to ask for a beating from the electorate, and that is precisely what fighting for a "yes" vote in an unnecessary referendum would be doing. In the event of a French "no", therefore, the greater likelihood is that Blair (if returned to power) will cancel the UK referendum.

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