Thursday, April 29, 2004

UK “can vote no and stay in EU”

Sources: BBC and The Independent

Interviewed on the Today programme this morning, Valery Giscard D'Estaing agreed that a “no” vote in the referendum would not mean leaving the EU. Instead, said the UK would be left on the margins, away from the main decision making.

Pressed about what actually a 'no' vote would mean, Mr Giscard D'Estaing said: "It's not a question of saying yes or no to Europe. "It's a question of making Europe function. Of course if someone says we do not accept the way that Europe functions, it will have to assume the consequences of its own choice."

If 300m out of Europe's 455m people say yes, then those who say no will have to decide "how to progress by themselves ... elsewhere". "If finally the British say no and the other Europeans say we want to go, then they will have to find an accommodation," he said. "It's true in that case Britain will not be in the core of the system but in the margins of the system."

Michael Howard, responding later in the programme, said Giscard had given the lie to Labour suggestions that a "no" vote would take Britain out of the EU.

Meanwhile, according to the Independent newspaper, Chirac talked on the telephone to Blair last night, to protest about his decision to call a referendum. Predictably Downing Street refused to comment on their conversation, but it is clear that Blair’s decision has put unwonted pressure on Chirac to honour his own referendum commitment.

And European Parliament president (although not for much longer) Pat Cox is clearly getting nervous. “Although a referendum may be 18 months away”, he has warned, “ministers must start campaigning now if they want to secure a ‘yes’ vote”.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "When I look at the state of the public opinion polls and a large number of the Euro myths that seem to abound, I recall Norman Tebbit's phrase, 'Get on your bike'. It is not a time to hang about."

On this last point, we cannot help but agree.

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