TONY BLAIR arrived in Brussels last night to put forward the case for Britain to retain its veto on tax and foreign policy under the new European Union constitution to be discussed by EU leaders this weekend.
Mr Blair went straight into a meeting with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, which holds the EU's rotating presidency. His intention was to clarify the two "red lines" he will not cross during intense negotiations at the summit.
Although Britain has won concessions on the draft treaty's wording on criminal justice and social security, Mr Blair is determined to safeguard Britain's ability not to have tax or foreign policy decisions imposed on it by the EU. He will reinforce the point at a working breakfast today with Jacques Chirac, the French President, and Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor. The three leaders are expected to seal an agreement on EU defence co- operation.
British ministers believe the final stumbling block at the summit to agreement over the constitution will be the dispute over whether Spain and Poland should accept a cut in their voting power on the EU's Council of Ministers. "We think that will be the last issue to be resolved and that it will go to the wire," said one British source.
What officials call the "nightmare scenario" for Britain is if a deal is struck on voting strengths early in the summit, leaving Mr Blair's objections on tax and foreign policy the final barrier to an agreement. But they are confident the Prime Minister will win enough "new language" on the two issues to claim he has successfully defended his "red lines". …