Leaders under fire from right - and Pope

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair will try to kick-start the campaign for a "yes" vote in the referendum on the European constitution tomorrow when he goes before Parliament to argue that all the main British concerns about the document have now been met.

Tony Blair will try to kick-start the campaign for a "yes" vote in the referendum on the European constitution tomorrow when he goes before Parliament to argue that all the main British concerns about the document have now been met.

But the Prime Minister will face an uphill task, particularly after this month's elections, that saw 12 members of the UK Independence Party elected to the European Parliament, which they have vowed to "wreck".

Other heads of government also found themselves under fire at home over the deal. Spain's Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, was accused by the conservative opposition of accepting a reformed voting system that excluded their nation from "the group of important countries".

The Polish Prime Minister, Marek Belka, faced similar criticism from the right.

Even the Pope added to criticism of the 300-page document, agreed in the early hours of yesterday morning, for its absence of any reference to religion.

Mr Blair's position was boosted yesterday by the employers' organisation, the CBI, which praised him for protecting the "flexibility" of the British labour market.

Employers had feared that the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, written into the new constitution, would give back to the trade unions rights taken away from them when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. But during last week's Brussels summit, Mr Blair successfully fought for a rider to be added, that the charter must take "due regard" of national law.

Digby Jones, the CBI's director-general, said: "The Prime Minister deserves praise for protecting British interests on tax, employment law and social and economic policy."

But praise from industry may aggravate Mr Blair's problems with the Labour left and with some of the big unions, who are looking enviously at the rights enjoyed by their European counterparts.

One Labour MP, John Cryer, warned that up to 40 of his colleagues could join the "no" camp in a referendum on the constitution because "it contains all sorts of nasties".

The former sports minister Kate Hoey said voters would rightly reject it in a referendum. "This deal is bad for working people. It is essential for us to have full control over areas like health, education and social policy so we are able to deliver a Labour agenda. But with this deal we could be outvoted in all these areas. Labour voters won't have it, and I don't blame them."

UKIP's leader, Roger Knapman, has challenged Mr Blair to hold the referendum immediately and resign if he loses. There was also a sustained attack from the Conservatives. Their foreign affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram, said: "It is incredible that government ministers are still claiming that this centralising constitution, which they also used to oppose, is actually a good deal for Britain; and they are defending it not on what they've won, but on what they haven't lost. Who do they think they're duping?"

The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, defended the constitution: "Now that the debate will be properly engaged about Europe it is essential for pro-Europeans to expose the hollow myths being peddled by the Conservative leadership and UKIP."

But Joaquin Navarro-Valls, a Vatican spokesman, expressed regret "for the opposition of some governments to the explicit recognition of Europe's Christian roots".

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