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FactCheck: Did Blair promise Euro referendum?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 June 2007

Is Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan right to claim Blair twice promised a referendum on Europe, only to drop it?

The claim

"This is outrageous. He [Blair] promised twice that we would have it [a referendum]."
Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP, Today programme, BBC Radio 4, 13 June 2007.


Europe: the perennial thorn in any party's side. Can't win an election with it - can't keep a party together without it.

European leaders meet in Brussels next week to agree a new constitution, to replace the one rejected by voters in France and Holland in 2005.

Next week's meeting has led to fears - mainly aired by the Tories, although also within Labour ranks - that the British people, unlike the French and Dutch, are not going to get their say.

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was almost salivating with injustice as he proclaimed Blair had twice promised a referendum on Europe, only to drop it. Is he correct?


Hannan says Blair made promises of a referendum in both 2004 and 2005.

Certainly, on 20 April 2004 that was the case, as the PM told Parliament it should debate the European constitutional question "in detail and decide upon it" and "then let the people have the final say".

He ended the Commons statement with the war-cry: "Let the issue be put. Let the battle be joined."

No doubt in that pledge; although Blair's advisors would today point out that he is specifically referring to a debate with constitutional significance, not a watered down treaty.

'Let the issue be put. Let the battle be joined.'
Tony Blair's war cry

Fast-forward to the Labour election manifesto in 2005 and the language is as forthright.

Blair promises: "We will put it [the constitution] to the British people in a referendum and campaign wholeheartedly for a Yes vote."

All of which is in contrast to Blair's response to the Financial Times in April this year after it asked if there would be a referendum.

He replied: "No. If it's not a constitutional treaty, so that it alters the basic relationship between Europe and the member states, then there isn't the same case for a referendum."

So Hannan's comments are superficially correct - but even he admits it's all in the wording.

Hannan told FactCheck: "Official comments have been made that these promises do not count because it's not a constitutional debate anymore, but that is just playing with words."

'There is no change in the policy.'
Number 10

Hannan believes it still worthy of a public vote. He cites German leader Angela Merkel - who said she wanted amended legislation "to use different terminology without changing the legal substance" - as evidence that this remains a constitutional matter.

Merkel has also said: "We need to think about how we make the constitution a success. I want the constitution, the German government wants the constitution."

This effectively strikes at the heart of the matter - just how significant is the legislation which is going to be discussed next week? Blair's camp will say its constitutional impact has been diluted, it's just an amended treaty - the Euro-sceptics will say he's signing away Britain's powers on the quiet.

A spokesman for No 10 told FactCheck: "There is no change in the policy. If a constitutional treaty were to be revived then we would put it out to a referendum - but we can't predict the outcome of the discussions in Brussels next week.

"We haven't had a referendum on amended treaties in the past, for example Maastricht and Nice.

"When the promise of a referendum was made we didn't know that the Netherlands and France would reject it first; we didn't know that the treaty would be replaced. That has had an impact on all 27 states - not just the UK."

FactCheck rating: 2

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Every time a FactCheck article is published we'll give it a rating from zero to five.

The lower end of the scale indicates that the claim in question largerly checks out, while the upper end of the scale suggests misrepresentation, exaggeration, a massaging of statistics and/or language.

In the unlikely event that we award a 5 out of 5, our factcheckers have concluded that the claim under examination has absolutely no basis in fact.


Hannan's comments are true. Blair has twice promised a referendum on Europe, three years down the line from the first pledge, and there's no sign of one.

But the Tory MEP's remarks have to be taken with a pinch of salt, in a sense voters in France and Holland have already stolen the UK's thunder. What's left on the table now is not what Blair thought his self-proclaimed "battle" would be about.

Yet until the full details of next week's discussions emerge - as Blair takes part in one of his last high-profile jaunts - we won't really know whether the British public has lost the vote the PM promised.


Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP, Today programme, BBC Radio 4, 13 June 2007
2005 Labour manifesto
Blair confirms Euro poll in 2004
Today programme
Merkel wants EU constitution
Blair says no to referendum

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