Richard North, 19/01/2005  

Publicised by the BBC website, a written parliamentary answer from the constitutional affairs minister Chris Leslie has revealed that the administration of the EU referendum is likely to cost the same as a general election – about £80 million.

Labour MP John Cryer, whose question revealed the price estimate, said the cost surprised him but was not a central factor as it was important people had their say. But he said it would have been better to have rejected the constitution so avoiding the need for a referendum.

He has a good point. If we assume that the poll does deliver a "no" vote – a dangerous but plausible assumption – then Blair’s ambition will have wasted that amount of money. Small beer as a proportion of total government expenditure, it is still real money, paid by real people - and would pay for about 10,000 hip replacement operations.

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