Blair has done an interview for some of the European papers for tomorrow. He argues that if the forthcoming treaty doesn't change the fundamental constitutional basis of the UK's arrangement with the EU, then there isn't a case for a referendum.
This argument is dishonest because Blair and the Government never did accept that the Constitution changed the basis of Britain's relationship with the EU. Their promise of a referendum was never made on the basis that they had accepted that.
At the time Blair said, "There should be a referendum in circumstances in which there is a proposal to alter fundamentally the Government's constitutional arrangements. That is not the case with the European Convention"
As Denis MacShane said at the time: “If, hypothetically, there was such a fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union that a referendum was justified, then you would have to look at it. But there is absolutely no evidence on this.”
The Government didn't concede a referendum in 2004 because it had accepted the principled arguments that were being made in its favour.
It's curious in a way that - instead of a 'wait and see' line, the Government are already moving towards ruling out a referendum: never mind how radical the new treaty is. It seems odd that they are closing off their options so early.
Surely the media will start asking Brown whether he plans to go along with this deeply unpopular plan to take away out right to a vote? Or is the idea to use Blair as some kind of 'sacrificial anode' so that Brown gets less grief later? If so, it doesn't seem likely to work.
(a) This isn't going to help in the local elections and (b) the Government - and particularly Gordon Brown - is going to spend the next few months dealing with endless questions about what would, or would not, be enough to trigger a referendum. Is this how Brown really wants to start his premiership?