Straw signals Britain may abandon vote on EU treaty

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Britain's campaign to ratify the EU constitution was mired in confusion after Downing Street signalled that the Government would wait until after the French vote before deciding whether to go ahead with a referendum.

Britain's campaign to ratify the EU constitution was mired in confusion after Downing Street signalled that the Government would wait until after the French vote before deciding whether to go ahead with a referendum.

Jack Straw fuelled doubts that Britain's vote would go ahead yesterday when he refused to commit Britain to a referendum if the French voted "no'' on 29 May and the Dutch followed suit three days later. The Foreign Secretary said that would leave the EU with a "problem" and the European Council of Ministers could lift the legal requirement on Britain to ratify the constitution.

"Plainly if there is a no vote by France or any other member state, the EU has a problem and it will have to be considered," he said. "Those obligations [to ratify] will continue unless and until the European Council makes a decision to abrogate those obligations."

The Foreign Secretary appeared to contradict the new minister for Europe, Douglas Alexander, who only an hour earlier in the Commons quoted the Prime Minister's words, committing Britain to a referendum whatever the outcome of the French vote. Mr Blair said in the Commons on 18 April: "I have always said we will have a vote on the constitution. It doesn't matter what other countries do."

But during the general election, Mr Blair said Britain would not hold a referendum if there was no constitution after the French and Dutch referendums.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman took a "wait and see" approach, saying that by waiting for the French and Dutch referendums "that will establish the context".

Keith Vaz, the former minister for Europe, called on the Government to abandon the referendum if the French and Dutch voted against it, and he criticised ministers for failing to show a proper lead.

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