According to an early edition of The Guardian (no link yet), Blair has brokered a deal with "European leaders" to postpone negotiations on Britain's £3.2bn budget rebate until after the general election.
Amid fears that Labour's campaign could be distracted by rows over the "cheque Britannique", says the Guardian, he has persuaded his EU counterparts to start discussions in early May. This will give Mr Blair, who hopes to win re-election in the expected May 5 poll, a mere six weeks to defend Margaret Thatcher's rebate, which will come under fire at the European summit in mid-June.
Blair is said to be determined to pull off a deal by then because Britain's hand will weaken over the summer, after the UK has taken over the EU presidency – when it will be more difficult for ministers to fight their corner while they are in the chair.
Securing a deal by the end of June would allow No 10 to cast Mr Blair in the "battling for Britain" mould of Lady Thatcher when he launches the "yes" campaign for next year's referendum on the EU constitution. Delaying the negotiations into 2006 would strengthen the "no" camp.
New Labour, it seems, hasn’t lost any of its news management skills and, as always, issues which should otherwise be driven by the national interest are now a matter of political calculation. Is it any wonder people are sick of politicians?
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