» Wednesday, May 18, 2005

EU Referendum

Put to him that what Douglas Alexander had said earlier today had seemed to mean that there would "definitely be" a referendum, which seemed slightly different to what he, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS), had been saying this morning, the PMOS said that as he had said this morning, the Prime Minister’s words were on record. We did not, however, want in any way to get drawn into hypothetical questions about what happened if the French referendum went one way or the other. He said it would be better to wait and see and then deal with the result. The PMOS said equally what was a statement of the obvious, as he had also said this morning, was that the context of the other European countries’ debate on the constitution would be influenced by the outcome of the votes in France and the Netherlands. He reiterated that the best thing was to wait and see, rather than get sucked into what was a lengthy process in another country.

Asked if France voted "no", would the Constitution be "meaningless", the PMOS said again that it was better to wait for the result and deal with it then, whenever it was.

Put that the Foreign Secretary had discussed the situation on the radio, and that there appeared to be a different scenario to that of the Prime Minister, the PMOS said that what the Prime Minister had given a commitment to hold a referendum on the constitution. Equally, it was a statement of the obvious that the outcome of the French and Dutch referenda would influence the context in which other countries would debate the matter. The PMOS repeated that people should wait for the results before starting to debate their implications.

Put to him that "there seemed to be slightly different rules for the game this time round" than from when Denmark had voted "no" in the past and the rest of the EU had just carried on, the PMOS said he was cautioned people against getting drawn into hypothetical debates which presumed a certain outcome to a referendum in one or other countries.

Asked if the Prime Minister had therefore been "economical with his words" regarding the referendum, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister had not been economical, and the words had remained on the record.

Put to him that the Foreign Secretary had said the Government was under a legal obligation to hold a referendum unless the EU Council stopped the ratification process, was the UK dependant on the European council and would there be any chance of them releasing the Government from that obligation, the PMOS said that in terms of the implications, it was better to wait and then discuss them then. What he was not going to do was jump two steps ahead.

Put to him that what was striking about what the Foreign Secretary had said was that if France voted "no", there would be a "problem", but however, in France, that was not how the "no" vote would see it, because there would be a "Plan B Renegotiation" of the treaty, so therefore: was the problem more that the Foreign Secretary had intervened in the French debate by saying the "no" vote was a problem, the PMOS said: no. By getting drawn further into the question, the PMOS said he would be creating a "problem". The PMOS said he would rather let the French people vote for themselves.

Put to the PMOS that the Prime Minister had said two contradictory things about the referendum as he had said there would be a referendum regardless of the French vote, but he had also said there would be a referendum only if there was still a constitution, and that this was "ambiguous and unclear" the PMOS said the Prime Minisiter’s words were on record. The PMOS also said the outcomes of the French and Dutch referendums was something we did not know, and we would deal with them as and when they arose. We should wait and see, and deal with the outcome whatever it was.

Put to him again that the Prime Minister had said conflicting things about the referendum, the PMOS there was a simple fact, which was the constitution was there and the outcome of the referenda would influence the context of the debate, and this was a statement of the obvious.

Asked if the French decision was more significant than the Dutch decision, the PMOS said that each country would make its decision, and it would be wrong for him to get into drawing up league tables of significance, as that would a) go against the spirit of the EU and b) cause offence.

Put to him that during the election campaign, people were told that Britain would "hit the ground running on Europe" post election and was there an example of that happening, the PMOS said he did not want to comment on what happened during the election campaign. However, he said that if there was a referendum campaign going on in two different countries, there would always be limitations on what was wise and proper for other countries to do at the same time.

Asked again whether it was disputed that the Prime Minister said conflicting things about the referendum during the campaign, the PMOS said his words were on record.

Briefing took place at 17:00 | Search for related news

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