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Blair's rigged referendum to scrap the pound

Shadow Foreign Secretary, Francis Maude speaking at a Press Conference. Mr Maude said:

"Mr Blair constantly says the Euro should not be an issue in this election because he would put the matter to a referendum.

But unless the voters can be sure that such a referendum would be even-handed, they can only be sure Britain keeps the pound by voting Conservative on June 7th.

Today we challenge Tony Blair to guarantee that any referendum on scrapping the pound would be even-handed.

To be even-handed the following conditions would need to apply:

1. The question on the ballot paper must be simple and unloaded, with the Electoral Commission required to certify that it is fair. There is no reason why the voters cannot be told today what the question would be.

2. The referendum must be called to seek approval for entry into the Euro at a specified date and on precise terms as to rate of exchange, transitional periods and so on. It must not seek general approval for the principle of entry, with timing and terms left to the government's subsequent discretion.

3. There must be no taxpayer-funded Government propaganda campaign masquerading as "information" in between the election and the referendum or at any stage during the referendum campaign itself.

4. There must be an absolute ban on similar propaganda campaigns funded by the European Commission.

5. The rigged spending limits which allow

the campaign to scrap the pound to outspend the campaign to keep the pound must be removed.

6. Mr Blair, Charles Kennedy and other leading scrap the pound advocates must agree now that they will not claim that the choice before the public is between joining the euro and leaving the EU. They must accept today that Britain can keep the pound and still remain a full member of the EU.

Without these undertakings Mr Blair's invitation to the public to place their trust in a referendum should be summarily dismissed. For our belief that a Blair Euro referendum would be rigged is not based on speculation. There is no need to look in the crystal ball when we can read the book.

When the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act was going through parliament, Labour only grudgingly accepted an amendment requiring the Election Commission to certify that the referendum question would even be intelligible. They contemptuously rejected amendments requiring it to certify that the question would be fair. Lord Bassam said this:

"Whether a particular question should be asked, and whether it is a fair question, are matters which…are very much in the political arena".

And Robin Cook has repeatedly failed to say definitively what the question would be.

Labour have refused to rule out a "discretionary" referendum. We know that Bob Worcester, Labour's own pollster, has advocated this. And a story in Sunday's papers, clearly briefed by a Labour insider, suggests that this is the favoured plan.

There is currently no ban on a taxpayer-funded propaganda onslaught in the period after the election and before the referendum is called.

Experience of the Scottish and Welsh devolution referendums suggests that Mr Blair would have no inhibitions at all in doing this, despite the Neill Committee recommending against this practice.

The European Commission has already embarked on a so-called "information" campaign about the euro, designed to convey the sense that Britain's membership is inevitable.

The rules currently allow for the campaign to scrap the pound to outspend the campaign to keep the pound by around £4 million. And his junior minister, Lord Bassam has admitted as much:

"The Government freely concede that their proposals would not ensure that each side in a referendum was subject to the same overall limit on expenditure, and there is no pretence that our proposals are intended to create a level playing field in that sense' .

Charles Kennedy is already on record just a week ago, saying that:

'The next referendum on the euro…is, in fact, going to become a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union'.

So none of the elements necessary for an even-handed referendum currently exist. If Mr Blair had as much faith in the good sense and judgement of Britain's voters as he claims, and if he was as confident of the merits of his case as he claims, he would instantly agree to these conditions. This is his big test. Is he up to it?"

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