Richard North, 04/10/2004  

In an attempt to claw back the UKIP vote, Conservative party chairman Liam Fox today committed a new Tory government to holding a snap referendum on the EU constitution, pledging that it would be held before the party’s next conference.

"We will campaign for a No vote. And we will get a No vote," he told this conference in his opening speech.

If Fox thinks that is enough, however, he is sadly mistaken. Undoubtedly, the referendum would be easier to win with a Conservative government in power but the fact that it will be held anyway – under Labour or the Conservatives – tends to diminish the force of the promise.

In any event, the Tories are possibly neglecting the fact that, for the second half of next year, the UK holds the EU presidency. This would almost certainly prevent Blair holding a referendum, but it might have a similar effect on the Tories. The logistical demands of running the presidency are such that it would be very difficult to run a campaign at the same time.

And, while a "no" campaign would be easier to win under the Tories, many believe that even then it would not be a foregone conclusion and that more time is needed to present the issues to the public. A rushed campaign might provoke a backlash, or might even favour a "yes" vote, with the pro-constitutionalists arguing that the Tories were attempting to close down the debate.

Either way, this looks like another of those ill-thought-out knee-jerk reactions from the Tories and it certainly will not be enough to bring UKIP voters back into the fold.

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