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Blair rules out early referendum in Britain

Hasan Suroor

E.U. Constitution is dead, say Conservatives

LONDON: An early British referendum on the European Union constitution has been ruled out after the French so decisively rejected the controversial treaty on Sunday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had planned to hold a referendum sometime next year, called for "time for reflection'' suggesting that the talk of a British vote at this stage was premature.

Mr. Blair, who was holidaying in Italy, said the outcome of the French referendum had raised "profound'' questions about the future of Europe and the issue would be discussed at a meeting of the European Council next month.

He said: "What is important now is having a time for reflection with the Dutch referendum in a couple of days' time and the European council in the middle of June where the leaders will discuss the implications of the votes that have taken place.''

Mr. Blair pointed out that the French "no'' had thrown up for debate issues relating to the very future of the European community and "how we deal with the modern questions of globalisation and technological change''. But he defended the constitution describing it as a "perfectly sensible set of rules to govern Europe''.

Deeply divided

Britain is almost as deeply divided over the constitution as France, and Sunday's "no'' vote has strengthened the rejectionist lobby here.

The Conservatives, who are opposed to the E.U. project itself, said the constitution was now "dead''. "This treaty does not do what the people of Europe want and I think it should be put to rest right away,'' said Liam Fox, the shadow foreign secretary.

Even the staunchly pro-E.U. Liberal Democrats believed that there was no point holding a referendum in Britain on a treaty that had been so overwhelmingly rejected by the French, and provoked hostility across Europe.

"Without the acquiescence of the French you can't really make meaningful progress on this constitution,'' said the Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

The "Britain in Europe'' group insisted that the E.U. constitution was "in the best interests of Britain and Europe'' but said it was now for the European Council to find "the appropriate way forward''.

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