25th Sep 2017

Britain shelves vote on EU Constitution

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has announced the UK will freeze moves to pave the way for a referendum on the EU Constitution.

Speaking to the House of Commons on Monday (6 June), Mr Straw said the British cabinet would postpone its plans for the vote due to the rejection of the constitution in France and the Netherlands last week.

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But he stressed the legislation could still be introduced at a later date.

"The Constitutional treaty is a property of the EU as a whole, and it is now up to its leaders to discuss its future", stated Mr Straw, adding that it is not up to "the UK alone to decide the future of the treaty".

The EU constitution bill has already entered the pipelines of the UK's parliamentary chamber, but a date for its second reading has not been set.

Mr Straw said the government sees "no point in doing so now", but will "reserve it as an option should the situation change".

He confirmed his country's official support for the document, noting that the "UK has achieved all its objectives" in negotiating the text - a point strongly criticised by the Conservative opposition during the debate following his statement.

No need for knee-jerk reply

Hours before the official announcement, Tony Blair's spokesman confirmed the cabinet's decision, suggesting it would not make sense to simply go on with the plans for a referendum.

"That does not mean we are withdrawing the option", he said, adding the issue should be discussed at the European Council on 16-17 June - as suggested by other EU leaders.

He hinted today's move by Downing Street was a reaction "reflecting the fact that we are in uncertain times".

"In uncertain times you should not just give a knee-jerk response", he said, according to wire reports.

Mixed messages towards London

The British decision on the next steps concerning the ratification has been under the spotlight across the EU.

The European Commission repeated its opinion on Monday that the member states should avoid unilateral action and wait until they gather and collectively decide what to do next.

Over the weekend, the French and German leaders also called for votes on the EU charter to continue, and Mr Chirac's spokesman suggested Britain held "great responsibility" during its half year at the helm of the EU - starting from 1 July - in finding a way out of the current crisis.

The same message came from Poland and Slovakia, while the Czech republic remains divided between the government, supporting the new treaty and its continued ratification, and the opposition parties which reject both options.

President Vaclav Klaus, ex-leader of the opposition Civic democrats and staunch critic of the constitution, said he would not veto the bill setting the referendum, even though he viewed the treaty as "dead". However, the Czech authorities have still not agreed on the method of the vote.

It is expected that the Danes and the Irish could follow suit in postponing their referendums, but they will probably wait for next week's discussion at the EU summit before they make a further step in that direction.

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