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Europe

UK to Hold Referendum on Staying in EU?

A report by the tabloid newspaper, "The Sun," claims that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to call a referendum on whether or not the UK should remain in the EU.

The mass circulation daily wrote on Tuesday that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is prepared to hold a referendum on whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union. He could effectively turn the next general election in 2006 into a single-issue poll on Britain's relationship with Europe, the paper says. If Blair were to win such an all-encompassing poll, it could then give him the authority to agree to the proposed EU constitution and bring Britain into the euro zone.

The timing and the exact wording of such a referendum question have yet to be decided. But the widely read Sun has often been used by Blair to float controversial ideas in the past. According to wire reports, the government denied the claims last night, saying that their position on a referendum on Europe remained "consistent."

Blair has repeatedly rejected calls for a referendum on the constitution and says that there will be a referendum on joining the euro only when the economic situation is right for the UK.

Such a "do or die" vote would represent a risky but potentially clever strategy for Blair, who is coming under increasing pressure to define once and for all Britain's relationship with the EU. The majority of people in the UK are against adopting the euro but want to remain in the EU and want a referendum on the constitution. By combining all the issues, Blair would force voters into choosing "all-in" or "all-out."

The strategy would also outflank the resurgent opposition Conservative party, who would be forced to campaign for withdrawal from the EU -- an unpopular choice. The Tories tried to fight the last general election on European issues but their "save the pound" campaign proved disastrous and they were thrashed at the ballot box.

If Blair ends up victorious in such a poll, it would serve to reinvigorate his administration, which has been under siege recently, with rows over immigration and Iraq. (EUobserver.com)

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