28th Feb 2020

French No could shelve the referendum in Britain

If it wins the elections, the British Labour cabinet would consider retreating from plans to hold a referendum on the EU constitution should the French reject the treaty in May.

Foreign Minister Jack Straw admitted on a TV programme over the weekend that he did not know if the referendum would be held in 2006 as planned, if a negative outcome results in France, according to UK media.

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  • All eyes on France as the pre-referendum polls show a worrying picture for the yes camp on the EU constitution vote (Photo: EUobserver)

He said the decision on what to do next would have to be put to a meeting of EU heads of state, adding that concerning the popular poll in the UK, "It all depends ... I've no idea what is going to happen".

The Conservatives, the main opposition party in the 5 May UK general elections, have promised to hold the referendum within six months after the vote.

The Guardian quotes current government sources as suggesting the referendum would be shelved in case of France’s debacle, despite the previous statements by Labour leader Tony Blair that the plebiscite would be held even if some other countries turned down the constitution.

The British Foreign Office is reportedly expecting EU leaders to halt the ratification process altogether if there is an overwhelming rejection by one of its leading and largest supporters.

"If Britain alone votes no, it is a problem for Britain. If France votes no, it is a problem for Europe. We would wait to see what the French had to say, but it is inconceivable that the Constitution could go ahead", an official is quoted by the Guardian.

Alarms raised

Meanwhile, EU leading figures are raising alarms on the possible consequences of a "non".

EU Foreign Ministers expressed their concerns on Saturday (16 April), during their informal meeting in Luxembourg.

Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn said "The vote in France is a decisive ballot", adding "I am assuming that the French people will say yes, because the world will not wait for Europe... If France says no, it will be difficult".

British Europe minister Denis MacShane expressed his sympathy with French leaders.

"The French have actually suddenly discovered in the last few months ... what I've had to live with almost my entire life in British politics: the mythologizing of the EU", he said, according to AFP agency.

Some leaders and the European Commission pointed out that the consequences would be harsh for the EU's foreign policy and future enlargements if the constitution is stopped in it tracks.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is set to urge the French voters to vote Yes on Monday in Paris. Also the president of the European Parliament Josep Borrell will be in France today (18 April).

Chirac’s charm offensive unsuccessful

A TV debate last week with the French President Jacques Chirac has not lead to a major U-turn in the sentiments on the EU constitution among citizens.

The polls taken shortly after the programme suggested 53 per cent still opposed the document, while 47 said they would vote in favour of it.

Another poll put the No camp on 56 per cent, as opposed to 44 per cent pledging Yes for the treaty.

Half of those questioned thought Mr Chirac's TV address was "not convincing", with only 22 per cent saying the opposite, according to Libération.

Meanwhile, cabinet officials have confirmed they will continue campaigning – including on public television, while Foreign Minister Michael Barnier stressed that Paris had no plan B if the constitution is rejected.

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