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UK EU Referendum to be shelved

London Evening Standard | June 2, 2005
By Joe Murphy and Jason Beattie

Jack Straw is today preparing to pull the plug on Britain's referendum on the EU constitution.

Senior Whitehall sources said the Foreign Secretary will announce on Monday that the Bill paving the way for Britain's vote is to be put on hold.

The move, which follows "no" votes by the French and Dutch, is a further sign the controversial treaty is in its death throes.

Britain is unwilling to be the first country to declare the treaty dead, but Mr Straw is expected to use his statement to MPs to make clear the

difficulties of resuscitating it.

According to reports, he will tell MPs the Bill allowing for a referendum in the UK is to be put on ice indefinitely.

A Foreign Office source said: "We are going to make a statement. We haven't decided exactly what the statement is going to say but it will refer to the Bill."

Europe Minister Douglas

Alexander said public opinion could not be ignored. His words left no doubt that Tony Blair wants the constitution to be abandoned when EU leaders meet to discuss the crisis on 16 June.

But the Prime Minister was fighting behind the scenes against pressure from France and Germany to go through

the motions of holding a UK referendum - which ministers think would end in an even bigger rejection.

The Dutch voted by 61.6 per cent to 38.4 against the blueprint for Europe's future after a campaign highlighting anger at rising inflation, immigration and loss of sovereignty. Mr Alexander said: "These two no votes leave the constitutional treaty in serious difficulties ... but it is not for one country to declare it dead."

He said it was now up to the French and Dutch to say whether they could ever pass it. He expected talks to take several months.

While British party leaders were unanimous in declaring the constitution dead, German chancellor Gerhard Schrˆder joined forces with France's Jacques Chirac in refusing to accept the verdict.

Germany was reported to be proposing an "inner core" of EU members to recreate the old Franco-German axis.

Luxembourg, which holds the presidency of the EU Council, piled the pressure on Britain to go ahead with a referendum next year.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the decision to kill off the Bill was "inevitable".


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