Blair to stay on, says Mandelson

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Tony Blair could carry on for another three years now that he has been given a "fresh calling" to resolve Europe's crisis, his old ally Peter Mandelson claimed last night.

Mr Mandelson said the French and Dutch rejection of the European Union constitution handed Mr Blair another chance to secure his legacy as Prime Minister.

But attempts to pronounce the constitution dead were stymied last night as Germany and France insisted that ratification should continue.

In the scramble for political advantage in the wake of last week's "no" votes, Britain's EU commissioner claimed Mr Blair is best placed to help European leaders "come to terms with what's happened".

It had been widely expected that Mr Blair would stand down after Britain's referendum on the constitutional treaty, due to take place early next year, to make way for Chancellor Gordon Brown. But Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, will announce tomorrow that Britain's referendum plans are to be put on indefinite hold.

"What he's got to do is help other member states and heads of government come to terms with what's happened, understand, realise how Europe's got to move to a different place if it's going to overcome that malaise ... that exists amongst the public," Mr Mandelson told today's ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme.

"I hope that as part of his legacy when eventually he does step down as Prime Minister towards the end of this parliament, he will be able to look back on the next two to three years and say 'I helped Europe change and mend it's direction, re-build public confidence and trust in the European project in a way that seems relevant to us and our daily lives'."

Mr Mandelson urged the Government not to rush to declare the constitution dead, but instead hold their fire until the crunch EU summit in Brussels on 16 June. Nevertheless, he acknowledged it was unrealistic to expect countries like Britain, which are due to hold referendums on the treaty, to go ahead with them until they knew whether there would be fresh votes in France and the Netherlands.