Ministers write off British referendum after second rejection

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Britain's EU referendum was killed last night after the Netherlands followed the French in firmly rejecting the EU constitution.

Britain's EU referendum was killed last night after the Netherlands followed the French in firmly rejecting the EU constitution.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said Britain would respect the overwhelming "no" vote in the Dutch referendum. He will make a Commons statement on Monday and is expected to hint that the Bill to implement the referendum will be shelved. Ministers privately admitted last night the UK referendum cannot now go ahead.

Mr Straw spoke of "profound" questions the votes raised: "The people of the Netherlands have added their voice to the people of France and voted 'no'," he said. "We must respect the results of the referendums and we will."

Tony Blair will hold emergency talks with EU leaders over the voting crisis, which is now set to overshadow Britain's six-month presidency of the EU. The Prime Minister is on holiday in Tuscany until the weekend but senior officials said he would be consulting other EU leaders by telephone over the next 48 hours.

Mr Blair was warned last night by EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso against unilateral action before the EU summit in Brussels on 16 June. Some leaders were still pressing for the process to continue, but Mr Blair believes the way forward is to make progress on reform of EU economies, before reforming the institutions.

Ministers were expecting the Dutch rebuff after the French vote but the size of the "no" vote surprised even the most pessimistic pro-Europeans.

Allies of Mr Blair said he was "fired up" and ready to turn the British presidency into a personal crusade to lead Europe out of its political crisis. He has made it clear he is ready to confront the French President Jacques Chirac over the need to reform the EU economy. M. Chirac told the French people on Tuesday night he would not accept "Anglo-Saxon" economic reforms.

The former Europe minister, Denis MacShane said: "I think the treaty is dead. If a centralised statist republic like France says non and a liberal Atlanticist monarchy like the Netherlands says no, it is pure fantasy to imagine that the constitution has got any legs left.

The "no" campaign in the UK called on Europe's leaders to "respect democracy" and scrap plans to implement the constitution "by the back door".

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