The Press: Battle lines drawn in the war of the EU

For or against, no debate will energise the print media quite like the one over the EU referendum. Francis Elliott reports

The Prime Minister's about-turn on an EU referendum hasn't only left his ministers struggling to catch up. Newspapers are also having to work out where they stand on this contentious issue.

Eurosceptic papers are cross that their fox has been shot, depriving them of grounds on which to attack the Prime Minister; pro-European papers are suspicious of being forced to rally once again to the EU standard. Almost all are united in their call that the issue at stake should be the constitution itself.

Most journalists know there is little chance of a debate that is confined to the details of the document. Instead, rows over the poll's timing, over the question being asked, and over campaign funding will replace the issue of whether to hold it at all. Through all this Mr Blair must find room to sell a document giving more power to Brussels.

Alastair Campbell, his former director of communications, liked to claim that the British people could be persuaded to vote for the euro within six months of a recommendation to enter. There is much from those plans that can be dusted down and made to work again.

Most of those who were recruited to the euro cause can be expected to help out, but the game of celebrity endorsement could end in stalemate: while Eddie Izzard may back Mr Blair, Bob Geldof could do the same for the other side. Downing Street, meanwhile, has ordered all departments to produce concrete examples of everyday benefits of the EU to UK citizens.

Michael Howard and his press allies have been disciplined, so far, in insisting that Britain's membership is not in question. But it is inevitable that sooner or later the hardline sceptics will be forced to break cover.

The Daily Express's switch of loyalty promises to draw its right-wing rival the Daily Mail into a fight for editorial distinctiveness. Mr Blair will be hoping that the two titles embark upon a Dutch auction of Euroscepticism. Editor of the Express Peter Hill said it was too early to tell what his paper's position might be on re-negotiating Britain's EU membership. But he added: "The huge majority of the British people don't want the constitution. It is a folly for newspapers to fight their readers as it is political parties to fight their voters."

The News International titles, by contrast, can be expected be very careful to limit their attacks. The Sun may be more brutal than The Times but both will aim their fire at the detail of the constitution rather than at the EU itself.

The attitude of titles in the pro-Europe camp, including that of The Independent, might be described as one of qualified enthusiasm. "We never saw the need for a referendum," said Simon Kelner, the Editor of The Independent. "But we welcome the opportunity to get involved on the pro-euro side of the debate, which hasn't been heard too widely in the press so far."

It is the Financial Times' position that will most worry Downing Street. There is nothing as wounding as reasoned criticism from an erstwhile friend, and the FT's reaction to the referendum announcement was withering.

Mr Campbell's strategy to win the euro referendum relied on a short campaign. But a poll on the EU constitution could be two years away. That's an awful lot of column inches to play for.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own