Tory leader calls for poll on constitution

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Indy Politics

The Government would win a referendum on the planned European Union constitution, a senior Cabinet minister declared yesterday.

But, with Tony Blair insisting there was no need for a plebiscite, the minister said it was more appropriate for Parliament to decide.

The European Convention's plans for an overhaul of EU structures triggered spats between Mr Blair and Iain Duncan Smith at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday.

The Cabinet minister insisted the Convention would not change the fundamental relationship between states, but was essential for efficient working in an enlarged EU.

He calledthe referendum campaign by Eurosceptic newspapers premature, and doubted they could sustain the pressure up to summer 2004, when any treaty was likely to be signed.

In the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith challenged Mr Blair to call a referendum on the treaty. "Why are you frightened of giving the British people their say?" he asked.

Mr Blair said the reasons were the same as those used by the previous Tory government, which did not have a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty or the Single European Act. "Changing the way Europe works is absolutely vital if a Europe of 25 is going to function effectively," he added.