EU constitution poll could come early in 2006, says Straw

Britons could go get their chance to vote on the EU constitution "early in 2006" if Labour wins the general election, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today.

Speaking at the signing of the new EU constitution in Rome today, Mr Straw ruled out a 2005 vote as Britain's presidency of the EU made it impractical. The Prime Minister's Official Spokesperson also said today that running a referendum at the same time would "clearly be an interesting experience" given all the demands that would entail.

There has been no definite decision as to when a referendum might be held, but the precise timing of the poll is subject to parliamentary approval and depends on the parliamentary timetable. The timing of the referendum "is pure speculation at the moment", he added.

"The UK was attending the signing of the new Treaty today, not simply as a member of the EU but as a member who was leading from the front in terms of where Europe was going in relation to economic reform and enlargement, as well as pushing forward the boundaries of Europe - and doing so on the basis of nation states co-operating together. It was clearly a Europe in which we felt at home," the spokesperson added.

Every country has two years from today in which to make a decision about the Constitution.

Commenting on today’s signing of the EU constitution, Tory Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram said the Constitution would "be bad for Britain" and that there was "no excuse for the delay in holding a referendum".

"What we are seeing today is the opposite of democracy in action. The pomp and ceremony of signing a treaty, which the British people have indicated in opinion poll after opinion poll they do not want to see, shows contempt for the people," Mr Ancram said.

"I would have liked to have seen this put to the people before there was an agreement on it by the leaders of the various European countries. This is not a matter for leaders to decide, it is a matter for the peoples of the various countries of Europe to decide."

If they win the general election, the Tories have pledged to hold the referendum in October 2005.

Lib Dems foreign spokesperson Sir Menzies Campbell said: “This document is a sensible rationalisation of the existing EU treaties and takes account of the enlargement of the Union to 25 members.

“It is in the interests of the people of the UK, and we have nothing to fear from it. No one should be deceived by Tory party scare-mongering.”


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