Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it -"Blair gambles on Europe referendum"

As soon as it became clear that Tony Blair had sensibly decided to hold a referendum on the European constitution, I went to Ladbrokes to place a large wedge on a Yes result. I put a few more bob on when I heard Michael Howard's reply to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.

Howard had little to say, and adopted a line of interest only to the "Westminster village". This is an obsession with U-turns, when the vote should take place, and with

"who forced Blair to make his statement?".

Outside Westminster, the only issue that matters is that voters will now have their say. I know it's good fun attacking Blair for saying last year that he had "no reverse gear" though we know he has quite a few. His decision to support top-up fees, when this was specifically ruled out in Labour's manifesto, was a much bigger U-turn.

The referendum will inevitably take place after the election, but it's not just this that makes me believe the result will be Yes. Several tabloid papers will indulge in their usual xenophobia, but ranged against them will be a united Labour Party, the Lib Dems, the TUC, the CBI and many leading Tories. Television coverage will be ten times more important than what the papers say, and that - as ever - will be neutral.

The Prime Minister set the terms of the Europe debate in his statement. A Yes

vote is for staying in and a No is for getting

out. Blair is not a natural gambler, and he knows that once a serious debate takes place the British people will vote just as they did three decades ago. Blair was never going to win the euro argument with his Chancellor, but he will now be able to quit having secured Britain's place in Europe.

Next Article