It was kind of the Sunday Telegraph to tell us that the referendum on the EU constitution will be held in March 2006 - but, as is the norm for Sunday papers, the story was wrong. When, in a few years' time, it proves to be false, my old mate Paddy Hennessy, who wrote the story, will say: "It was right when I wrote it. The government changed its mind."
Perhaps the date will turn out to be right, but if it does I'll buy Paddy a magnum of champagne for making such a lucky guess. My hunch is that the story was inspired by Peter Mandelson, because the only interesting part of the article was a proposal from the twice-disgraced ex-minister. Apparently, the fighter who isn't a quitter but then quit for Brussels thinks he has a wheeze to scupper Gordon Brown's hostility to Britain joining the euro. For the referendum on the constitution, Mandy proposes another question, along the lines of: "If at some time, in the future, our Great Leader decides it's in Britain's interest to join the euro, then is that OK with you?"
There isn't a chance in a million that the public would say yes to this, but you have to admit that it's a smart plan. It would challenge the Treasury's control over the date of a referendum on Britain's entry to the euro, which it will wield by judging when our economy meets the famed "five tests".
Mandy, I am told, is still peddling the lie that the five tests were made up by
Ed Balls in a Washington taxi. They weren't.
The story arose because Balls was riding in a Washington taxi when he briefed me on the tests, down his mobile phone. I can never remember what the tests are (can you?) but they certainly stopped Tony Blair and Mandy from fulfilling their dream of Britain joining the euro.