M. Chirac's pain is not necessarily Britain's gain

Share

There was despondency among Europhiles across the Continent yesterday, as the implications of the French vote sank in. France's hefty rejection of the European constitutional treaty leaves little prospect that what was intended as a landmark document will, or can, be revived. Only propriety and common courtesy may explain why national leaders hesitated to write off the whole enterprise at once. With the Netherlands so close to voting, it probably seemed wrong to declare the treaty already dead and buried. Better to save the fatalism until the Dutch had made their voice heard - not that the result is expected to be different.

There was despondency among Europhiles across the Continent yesterday, as the implications of the French vote sank in. France's hefty rejection of the European constitutional treaty leaves little prospect that what was intended as a landmark document will, or can, be revived. Only propriety and common courtesy may explain why national leaders hesitated to write off the whole enterprise at once. With the Netherlands so close to voting, it probably seemed wrong to declare the treaty already dead and buried. Better to save the fatalism until the Dutch had made their voice heard - not that the result is expected to be different.

As so often in matters European, however, Britain is the exception. And while the political landscape may have been transformed by the French result, the transformation has been less substantial here - and, to the Government in the short term, more welcome - than across the Channel.

Most obviously, France's rejection of the treaty makes redundant the referendum the Prime Minister had been pressured into holding. While neither Jack Straw nor Tony Blair went so far as to confirm that there would now be no referendum, they were conspicuously less certain than they had been before. Not having to hold a referendum simplifies the Government's life no end.

Not only is consulting the electorate a risky proposition, the likelihood is that the discussion would turn into an even more ill-tempered and divisive debate than in France. All the old fears and prejudices about Europe and "abroad" would be on show, our often fractious relations with our neighbours would deteriorate further. And the result would probably - though not necessarily - be a defeat that would dash Mr Blair's hopes of finally reconciling Britain and Europe.

Together, the French No vote and the indefinite postponement of a British referendum could even simplify the British presidency of the EU that starts in July. It was not a British "No" that scuppered the treaty; Mr Blair will have no need to apologise. The French result could also lower expectations and makes it more difficult to dismiss Britain's presidency as a failure.

In the longer term, however, things become more complicated for Mr Blair, both on the domestic front and in the European arena. If there is to be no referendum in Britain, then there is no natural time for the Prime Minister to honour his promise to leave office. The infighting in the Labour Party, which he quelled immediately after the election, will restart with renewed energy. There is the prospect, too, of a more combative Tory party. As Kenneth Clarke has observed, it is likely that Europe will not now figure prominently in the leadership campaign, which could improve his own chances, or at least encourage a wider range of candidates.

While the "period of reflection" announced by President Chirac may see Mr Blair safely through the six months of Britain's EU presidency, it also holds the danger of further strife. At present, British ministers are presenting the French "No" as a rejection of the very aspects of the EU that concern them. But the "No" was largely a rejection of those features of the treaty that British ministers most prize: the looser union of sovereign states, the primacy of the free market; deregulation and competition. Underlying France's rejection were also doubts about the EU's rapid expansion, fears of imported cheap labour and worries about the accession of Turkey. Once these differences are aired, the gap between the British Government's vision of Europe, and that of France - among others - will be manifest. The constitutional treaty was designed and negotiated to smooth out these differences. In this, the French vote tells us, it failed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Whoever and whatever Arthur was, he wasn’t Scottish

Guy Keleny
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea