Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Warning to Federalists?

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Warning to Federalists?

Article excerpt

It is tempting to see the Prime Minister's abrupt change of heart on a referendum on the proposed European Union Constitution as an act of political expediency. That is, after all, what this Government has earned a reputation for.

But if that is the case, then we have to wonder why Tony Blair will commit himself to a massive test of public opinion that he will struggle to win, and which may even leave him humiliated.

The lessons from history are far from promising when one looks at other European governments which have tested public support for their commitment to the "grand project".

The Danes, who entered the Common Market with us in the 70s, voted against greater commitment not once, but twice, in 1992 and over membership of the euro.

The Irish, who have gained perhaps the most from Europe economically, also express doubt at the polls whenever the opportunity arises.

In 1975 the British public voted to stay in the Common Market, but on that occasion all three major parties sang from the same song sheet.

This time round the Conservatives will put the case against federalism, if not the European Union as a whole, and appear far more united on the issue than Mr Blair, perhaps, expected.

So why change tack now? At least one conspiracy theory must be that the Prime Minister is in effect buying time.

The draft constitution will have to go through Parliament first, putting off a referendum until after the likely date of the next election. As Labour did with the question of the euro in 2001, Mr Blair can attempt to neutralise the constitution as a political issue - claiming that is a debate for another date.

Arch conspiracists go even further, and suggest Mr Blair will step down in the wake of a third glorious victory and hand the poisoned chalice to his successor, be it Gordon Brown or AN Other. …

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