August 30, 2007


To vote or not to vote: Pressure grows for a plebiscite on Europe (The Economist, Aug 30th 2007)

IT WAS always assumed that Tony Blair's most troublesome bequest to his successor would be the war in Iraq. Serious competition, however, is coming from his promise in 2004 to hold a referendum on a proposed new constitution for the European Union. Buried after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected it, the constitution was replaced in June by a truncated draft reform treaty. Pressure is growing for a plebiscite on the new version.

Gordon Brown, anxious to avoid a referendum that he would probably lose, is strictly correct that Mr Blair's promise was to hold a vote on an EU constitution, and that the treaty is not a constitution. It amends, rather than replaces, existing EU treaties, hence the tortuous legalese with which it refers to particular articles of the older documents. But the content is little different. The removal of the preamble and references to the EU flag and anthem, as well as the relegation of the charter of fundamental rights to an annexe, are cosmetic changes. Furthermore, other European heads of government seem sure that the treaty is a constitution in all but name, as is the father of the original document, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

What should alarm the prime minister is that suspicion of the treaty is not limited to a small EU-bashing sect on the right of the Conservative Party. Ian Davidson, a backbench Labour MP, estimates that as many as 120 of his colleagues on the government benches want a referendum. Some ministers, including Jack Straw, the justice secretary, are thought to be sympathetic. Several large trade unions also favour a vote. On top of all this, some Liberal Democrat MPs, cross that the party is seen as impulsively pro-Brussels, are reportedly urging their leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, to back a referendum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 30, 2007 10:35 AM

This, surely, should be Mr. Cameron's hammer, if he had the will to pick it up and swing it.

Posted by: Mike Earl at August 31, 2007 10:38 AM