Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Out on a limb

Not for the first time, this Blog is swimming against the tide. But, to make sure there is no misunderstanding, we are saying unequivocally that there will be a British referendum.

Be under no misunderstanding, the decision to carry on with the ratification process is not one that can be made by any member state. Even Chirac knew that. It is "owned" by the European Council, which will meet on 16/17 June and then make its formal announcement.

As it stands, 24 of the 25 member states – the one exception being the UK – has already committed to continuing with ratification. And, as Thatcher found to her cost at Milan in 1985, a Council vote is carried by a simple majority.

On that basis, Blair will not submit himself to the humiliation of being outvoted and being instructed by the "colleagues" to continue with his referendum plans. He will therefore declare that it is his decision to carry on, in the "interests of democracy".

That, in effect, will give him the moral high ground, because he will have decided to "listen to the people". It will give him "ownership" of the referendum, backfooting the Tories who have been calling for it to be abandoned.

Furthermore, as we have argued in our previous posting, a referendum on these terms could be winnable. Blair would simply say that, with the French out of the way, Britain could take the leadership of Europe. "Vote 'yes' for reform", would be the strong, and persuasive message.

Perversely, that could also bring the French back on-side. Under a new president in 2007, the message could be that the "Anglo Saxons are capturing Europe – we must get back in to rescue it".

For the moment, though, the colleagues are looking to buy time, and the only option available to them, short of conceding defeat – which they cannot and will not do - is to continue with the ratification. That is why, even despite the expected Dutch "no" – which has already been discounted - they will take this course of action. And that is why, on 16 or 17 June, if not before, Blair will announce that the referendum will go ahead.

Then the injunction given by Blair on 20 April 2004 to the House of Commons - as he announced his intention to hold a referendum - will really come alive: "Let the issue be put and let the battle be joined".

We are ready.

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