Then on April 20 Tony Blair rose in the House of Commons and made a U-turn. For months, he had refused a referendum on the EU constitution; now he promised to hold one, but only after parliamentary deliberation--probably not until the British general election he is expected to call in May or June 2005. It was an uncharacteristically clumsy move: Blair gave varying answers on what would happen if Britons voted no. Politically, Blair may have robbed the Conservatives of an issue in the June election for the European Parliament and Britain's general election next year. But Blair's U-turn also added to his reputation for slipperiness and spin, which grew amid the controversy over the "dodgy dossier" supporting the war and the suicide of weapons inspector David Kelly last July. An investigation exonerated Blair and his government in the Kelly affair, but polls showed most voters did not agree.
"Red lines." On the EU constitution as well, Blair does not have public opinion on his side: A recent poll showed 16 percent in favor and 53 percent opposed. Opponents argue that it would create a European superstate and transfer power from elected British officials to unelected EU bureaucrats. Blair says that in the June negotiations he will insist on "red lines" maintaining British sovereignty on foreign and macroeconomic policy, and argues that only by accepting the constitution can Britain influence the direction of Europe. In other words, he wants Britain to approve the constitution so he can fight to make Europe less Old and more New.