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Words in the News
Monday 19 April 2004
UK referendum on EU constitution
Tony Blair The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is expected to overturn his existing policy and announce a nationwide referendum on the European Union's new constitution. The EU member states are working towards finishing the constitution by June and until now the British government has been resisting calls for a referendum. This report from Jon Devitt:
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Agreeing to a referendum would mark a complete u-turn in government policy. Until now, ministers have been arguing that the constitution does not make the fundamental changes which would warrant a referendum and that it could simply be ratified by parliament. This has been the procedure in the past with major EU treaties, such as the single European act in 1987 and the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

But opponents argue that the constitution by its very name is different. They say it's likely to compromise Britain's sovereignty. The strongest opposition has been from the Conservative party, although a significant group within the governing Labour party are sceptical too. There is, though, a broader coalition in favour of a referendum, including some who support the constitution. The third party, the Liberal Democrats for example, believe a nationwide vote would be the best way to make the pro-European argument.

The government will clearly have a struggle on its hands to win over an argument which has been dominated by a Euro-sceptic press and they wouldn't want to lose a referendum shortly before a general election which is expected in a year's time.

Jon Devitt, BBC, London
Listen Listen to the words
a referendum
a vote in which all the people in a country who have the right to vote are asked if they agree with a particular policy
a complete u-turn
abandoning of a previous policy and doing the opposite
warrant a referendum
make a referendum seem necessary, justify it; (warrant is a formal word)
by its very name
here refers to the fact that a constitution is by definition a fundamental system of laws which formally states people’s rights and duties
in favour of
a nationwide vote
another way of saying ‘a referendum’
have a struggle on its hands
if you have something on your hands, you have to deal with it
win over
here, persuade people to support their policy
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