Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Europe referendum in March 2006"

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.

This article first appeared in the 01 November 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Dictator of Downing St