Blair was warned of threat to EU vote

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A leaked Whitehall memorandum has revealed that Britain's former minister for Europe warned Tony Blair last month that a referendum on the EU constitution would be dead if France votes "no".

A leaked Whitehall memorandum has revealed that Britain's former minister for Europe warned Tony Blair last month that a referendum on the EU constitution would be dead if France votes "no".

The memorandum, by Denis MacShane, explodes the Government's attempts to insist that a referendum will go ahead regardless of the French vote on 29 May.

"If the treaty is dead, there will be little point in having a UK referendum. An elaborate Whitehall structure, including a special Cabinet department to win the referendum campaign, will not be needed," he wrote.

Mr MacShane's note to the Prime Minister and key cabinet colleagues was leaked last night as Britain prepared for a bruising row this weekend over a threat to freeze the British rebate of £3.16bn a year. Jacques Chirac, the French President, was among the EU leaders supporting cuts in the British rebate.

EU ministers will discuss a plan put forward by the Luxembourg EU presidency to halt further increases in Britain's rebate. Downing Street said the rebate was "still justified", adding: "We cannot be forced into giving up our veto."

The Government continued to give the impression yesterday of pressing on regardless by announcing it will publish its Bill to pave the way for the EU referendum next Tuesday. But it will contain no timetable, and Mr MacShane said his contacts suggested the French will say "no".

Mr MacShane listed 10 reasons for a French "no" vote, including the unpopularity of M. Chirac; the "quick-fix of blaming Brussels for all French problems - bashing a Commission president is now a French as much as it was a British pass-time"; and a lack of leadership for a "yes" vote.

He warned Mr Blair that a French rejection may re-open rows in the EU about the voting weights between EU states, the number of commissioners, references to God in the document, and the accession of Turkey.

Mr MacShane also reported to Mr Blair that he had heard diplomatic gossip suggesting M. Chirac could be forced to resign and fight a new French presidential election.

"One contact with an ear to the Elysee tells me there is talk of Chirac resigning and then, like John Major in 1995, running again for re-election," he told the Prime Minister.

Mr MacShane told Mr Blair in the note, dated 8 April - as Mr Blair was still insisting that the referendum would go ahead - that the Government should immediately start preparing a strategy for dealing with the fallout from a "no" vote by the French.

The memorandum was also sent to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw and Patricia Hewitt, then Trade and Industry Secretary.

"If France votes no, Europe will be in stasis not crisis until 2007. There will be no need for referendums in other countries including the UK," said a summary of the memo. "The treaty ratification time-table is dead."

He said the Dutch referendum on 1 June would be irrelevant and others would be called off. "The Danish ambassador told me yesterday that there would be no point in having the referendum planned for 27 September in Denmark. His fellow Nordic and Baltic colleagues... all agreed the treaty would be dead." Mr MacShane, a passionate pro-European, was dropped by Mr Blair from the Foreign Office after the election and courted trouble by writing the memo in which he makes outspoken criticism of the Government's posturing over its European negotiations.

He said Britain's Europe policy would need to make a "step change" from "boastful language of 'red lines', vetoes, and 'Britain way ahead of the rest of Europe'." He adds: "If the UK is to rise to the responsibility of helping to lead Europe out of the crisis created by a French no vote, we will have to find more of Churchill's magnanimity and worry less about the Rothermere-Sun-Telegraph shadows in the cave."