January 3, 2005 9:34 pm

Warning over UK-EU relationship if treaty rejected

Britain's relationship with the rest of the European Union would be thrown open to question if voters rejected its constitutional treaty in a referendum to be held next year, according to the EU's chief foreign policy adviser.

Javier Solana said on Monday that, while rejection would not be "the end of the world", it would have an impact on relations with countries whose people had voted for the constitution.

The referendum is due to be held in 2006 after several others throughout Europe, including in France. Tony Blair is hoping Britain's presidency of the EU in the second half of this year will create momentum for a campaign in favour of the treaty that commentators believe he must win to be able realistically to continue as prime minister assuming he is still in power.

Mr Solana, asked in an interview on BBC Radio's Today programme about the implications of rejection, said that a No vote in the referendum would not exclude Britain from the "European family". But he added: "It will open up the question of the relationship with other members of the EU that have voted Yes.

"That would be a very important moment in the history of the EU and in the history of your country," said Mr Solana, who added that he was sure Mr Blair would mount a "solid campaign" in support of the treaty. "I am sure he is going to defend the constitution as a good thing for the UK and a good thing for Europe as a whole," Mr Solana said.

His comments go to the heart of the debate between political parties over whether to back the treaty. Labour argues that the constitution is necessary to speed up decision-making in the enlarged EU, but the Conservatives say it will make Europe's economy less flexible and more sluggish.

The result of votes in other member states, and more importantly in France, is likely to have a significant bearing on how the campaign is run in the UK.

The first popular referendum is expected in Spain in February and Paris on Monday confirmed that France would hold its referendum this spring. All member states must approve the constitution by parliamentary vote or referendum before it can take effect.

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