No decision on EU referendum in Britain

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it is too early to decide if Britain will hold a referendum on the proposed European constitution, following France’s rejection of the treaty in a weekend vote.

Mr Blair said that time was needed to reflect on the results of the French referendum and said: “Underneath all of this, there is a more profound question, which is about the future of Europe and, in particular, the European economy.”

Almost 55% of those who voted in the French referendum voted against the EU constitution. Voter turnout was reportedly forecast at around 70%.

The result is a blow for French president Jacques Chirac, whose government had campaigned strongly for a ‘Yes’ vote. Speaking after the results were announced, Mr Chirac described the vote as a “sovereign decision” by the people of France but said the decision had created a “difficult context” for defending the country’s interests in Europe.

It is widely expected that Mr Chirac will now appoint a new Prime Minister and a new Cabinet in the coming days.

The results of the French referendum are expected to influence other referendums to be held in Europe, particularly the Netherlands, where the public will go to the polls on Wednesday. However, several European leaders have remained hopeful that the constitution can be saved.

German Chancellor Gerard Schroder said that the French result was “a blow for the constitutional process, but not the end of it.” Germany ratified the EU constitution without holding a referendum.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that he was saddened by the result and said that a “period of reflection” was needed by all 25 EU member states. He also stressed that Britain would only ratify the constitution by holding a referendum, but did not say when this would take place.

Mr Straw is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons next week. He also said that discussions would be held regarding the future of the constitution at a meeting of the European Council on June 16.

The result of the French referendum has been welcomed by the No Campaign, which has been campaigning against the introduction of the EU constitution. Matthew McGregor from the No Campaign said he was “delighted” with the result. He said: “This time, Europe’s leaders must take no for an answer. The government must now guarantee that the EU will not implement any of the constitution’s contents by the back door, otherwise it must commit itself to a referendum in the UK now.”

The constitution needs to be approved by all EU member states in order to be introduced in November 2006 as planned.


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