Blair gambles on EU about-face

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In agreeing to hold a referendum on the EU constitution, the British Prime Minister has set in chain a process that will deliver a verdict on Britain’s destiny in Europe.

And he raised the stakes by suggesting a no vote would leave Britain on the margins in Europe.

In doing so, he left serious questions over whether he could survive a defeat – which bookmakers declared to be an odds-on certainty in Eurosceptic Britain – in the referendum, expected in the first half of next year.

Mr Blair made it plain that the referendum would go ahead even if another country rejected the constitution. Ministers will be bound by collective responsibility to campaign for a yes vote.

It is possible the referendum will be held before the next British election, also due in 2005.

About six of the 15 current and 10 enlargement EU candidate countries are expected to hold referendums on the constitution as part of its nation-by-nation ratification, expected to be completed by June.