Britain on Monday indefinitely postponed a referendum on the European Union's proposed constitution following its rejection in France and the Netherlands. The move puts Britain at odds with other E.U. members that favor continuing the ratification process.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons that Britain still viewed the 465-article treaty as a "sensible new set of rules for the enlarged European Union" but that "we see no point in proceeding at this moment" with a referendum.
The impact of the "no" votes must be discussed by European leaders at a summit in Belgium next week, Straw said.
After French voters defeated the referendum on May 29, Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a period of reflection. In order to be enacted, the constitution must be approved by all 25 members of the union.
Blair believes that "concerns about how the European economy responds to globalization" were behind the "no" votes, his spokesman said Monday. "What we need is a proper, sensible, rational debate about globalization and how Europe meets that challenge," added the spokesman, who under British government ground rules cannot be identified by name.
On July 1, Britain will assume the six-month rotating presidency of the union; its officials will enjoy unusual influence in E.U. policy as they chair various meetings. British officials have said that economic reform would be a central goal during their term.
"The E.U. has to come to terms with forces of globalization, in a way which maximizes prosperity, employment and social welfare," Straw told the House of Commons. "The E.U. does now face a period of difficulty. In working in our interests and the union's interests, we must not act in a way which undermines the E.U.'s strengths and the achievements of five decades."
Although Blair's government had not set a date for a referendum, it had introduced legislation in Parliament allowing for such a vote to take place. The British government has now withdrawn that legislation, while reserving the right to reintroduce it at a future date.
Blair, who visits Washington this week for talks with President Bush, is scheduled to meet Friday in London with a delegation from the European Parliament.
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have reaffirmed their commitment to the constitution and called on other member states to press ahead with ratification.
Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld said that his country planned to go ahead with a referendum on the constitution and that he would like it to take place Oct. 9, along with presidential elections, to ensure a high turnout.