If the Netherlands vote ‘no’ tomorrow (and the opinion polls don’t seem to leave much room for doubt), then according to the FT Jack Straw will tell the House of Commons next Monday that the UK government is immediately suspending parliamentary passage of the European treaty bill. This means the ratification process will be dead, not just in theory (which I think it is now) but in practice. This announcement leaves me with a strange feeling. These days I don’t feel especially British, I am not a great admirer of Tony Blair and Jack Straw, but somehow they seem to have drawn the obvious conclusions, conclusions which clearly are not obvious to many other EU politicians. I can’t help thinking that if we could get to the bottom of why this is, we would understand a bit better why there is such a communication problem between the UK and other parts of the EU.
Britain is to suspend plans to put the European Union constitution to the vote if the Netherlands follows France and rejects the treaty in a referendum on Wednesday.
As the shockwaves of the French vote were resounding on Monday, it emerged that Tony Blair and Jack Straw, foreign secretary, have decided immediately to freeze plans for a UK referendum if, as expected, the Dutch vote No.
The government hopes other EU states would at once declare that rejection in France and the Netherlands meant ratification in all countries must be suspended. Even without consensus the prime minister and foreign secretary believe it would be politically impossible for the UK to carry on with its own ratification.
Incidentally, Jaques Chirac is to make a formal statement about the future French government and his interpretation of the vote on French TV tonight.