EU constitution debate re-launched

The debate over a referendum on Europe’s constitution has been re-launched today.

Political, media and public pressure for a referendum on the proposed new constitution had waned over the summer as other issues made the headlines. But a Government white paper on the new shape of the EU has triggered renewed calls for a public vote.

The Government has issued the white paper as an official response to the draft constitution drawn up at a special convention. The draft will now be debated at the Intergovernmental Conference later this year.

Euro sceptic newspapers, and the Conservative leadership pre-empted the Official response at the start of the summer when they began to campaign for a public vote on the final treaty.

The Government has opposed this call, stating that past treaties were signed with no such referendum, and arguing that the new treaty is a revision of EU practice, rather than a fundamental change in the UK’s relationship with Europe.

Several groups have opposed the new constitution despite claims that the proposals could strengthen national parliaments, and a series of assurances that several vetoes will not be challenged.

Polls have regularly shown that the public want a vote, though one published in the Sun also indicated that a large majority do not know what the constitution is.

The Government has also recently argued that Conservative opposition to the draft reflects a desire to withdraw from Europe.

In several recent speeches Labour leaders have claimed that the alternative to signing the new treaty is to cease to be a member of the EU. Supporters of a referendum argue that this is not true, although commentators have reached little conclusion about what a no vote would mean.