Dutch voters are poised to deliver another hammer blow to the European Union constitution tomorrow.
Despite last ditch pleas from their political leaders for a ‘yes’ vote in tomorrow’s referendum, polls suggested that Holland’s electorate will reject the charter even more decisively than did the French in their vote last Sunday.
Two polls published late yesterday indicated opinion is running at close to 60% against the constitution, showing even greater resistance than in France, which voted by 55% to reject the treaty.
The margin could be even wider if supporters decide the battle is lost and stay away from the polling stations, some analysts have cautioned.
A second repudiation within a week will be a devastating setback for the constitution, adding to the pressure on the leaders of the 25-member EU to reconsider the direction of European integration when they gather for a summit in Brussels in two weeks.
Dutch voters who say they will reject the document cite a wide range of reasons for their scepticism, from liberals concerned Holland will lose its independence over such policies as euthanasia and marijuana, to right-wingers worried that the Dutch will lose control of immigration policies, as well as a range of grievances with the Dutch government.
The expected ‘no’ vote will intensify the soul-searching among Europe’s leaders sparked by France’s decision.
Although Tony Blair’s official spokesman today repeated the Prime Minister’s call for a “period of reflection” on the French result, former European Commissioner Lord Kinnock said that he believed that France’s “Non” has killed off the constitution.
The ex-Labour leader warned that trying to push ahead with the constitution in the face of the French decision risked sparking a backlash from Europe’s peoples.
“Anyone who seeks to escape from it will simply emphasise the false claims from some of the ‘no’ sections that Europe isn’t listening,” warned Lord Kinnock.
“Referendums produce results and results have got to be lived with.”
With Britain taking on the EU presidency from July 1, it will fall to Mr Blair to pick up the pieces.
Former foreign secretary Robin Cook suggested that resolving the crisis would give Mr Blair an opportunity to end his premiership on a high note.
Successfully clearing up the mess, Mr Cook suggested, would afford Mr Blair with “the best possible curtain call for himself to make a graceful exit”.
Mr Cook’s successor Jack Straw suggested yesterday he would say whether the referendum planned here next spring will go ahead when he addresses MPs on Monday.
But Mr Blair does not want to pre-empt the European Council leaders’ summit next month, and Downing Street indicated that Mr Straw will not make the announcement.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I would see Monday’s statement as more of an update.”
Officially, ratification by November 2006 remains an objective of all member states with the aim of bringing the treaty into force in 2007.
Under “Declaration 30“, EU leaders can meet to discuss whether to go ahead if at least four-fifths of the member states have ratified.
Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said the result meant the treaty was dead and warned against any attempt to bring in sections without a referendum.
British Commissioner Peter Mandelson is among those who have suggested that a second French referendum could be held.
That was rejected by his predecessor Lord Kinnock, who said the constitution was over-complicated and that the EU needed to “strip it to essentials”.
Some of the French opposition had been wider hostility to expansion of the EU, globalisation and President Jacques Chirac, he conceded.
But the result could not be ignored, he insisted.
He said Mr Blair had a “tough job” but was in a good position as the leading advocate of modernisation, and had more allies in that drive than was popularly portrayed.
Former Tory prime minister Sir John Major said: “If the treaty is dead, then there is plainly no point (holding a referendum in the UK).
“If the treaty is resurrected in any form, by the front door or the back door, then I think the commitment to hold a referendum should last.”
Mr Chirac has made radical changes to his government to restore his authority following the decisive defeat.
Dominique de Villepin has replaced Jean-Pierre Raffarin as prime minister following the poll.