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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 1 December, 1998, 13:22 GMT
The UK and the euro referendum
Jacques Delors in front of French referendum campaign poster
Jacques Delors during the French referendum campaign
The United Kingdom is not in the first wave of countries joining the euro, but the government says it may do so during the next parliament. So who makes the decision?

Q. When is the government going to tell us whether or not the United Kingdom will join the European single currency, getting rid off the pound in favour of the euro?

A. They are not going to. Tony Blair has promised a referendum before Britain makes its decision. The politicians are going to let the people decide.


Q. Is that because they can't make up their minds themselves?

referendum party poster
The Referendum Party campaigned on a single issue platform in the 1997 election
A. Probably. The euro is easily the most contentious political subject at the moment, with the loudest noises made by those fervently opposed to signing up to the euro. The UK's most popular newspaper, The Sun, has made it clear that it will continue to oppose scapping the pound.
Businessman Paul Sykes recently put about 20m towards a personal campaign against the single currency. He is following in the path of the late billionaire entrepeneur Sir James Goldsmith, who financed the Referendum Party in the 1997 election to fight seats on a platform to letting the people decide.


Q. So Sir James won?

A. He didn't win any seats, but he did seem to force Labour into promising a referendum itself.


Q. When are we having this referendum?

A. They haven't decided that either, although the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, always insists the UK will take the decision on joining once it has met five key economic tests. He also says it is realistic to expect the decision to be taken after the next election, which means probably some time after 2001.


Q. And what will they ask us then?

A. The independent Commission on the Conduct of Referendums, set up in April 1996, holds that the wording of a referendum question "should be short and simple and not open to either legal or political challenge after the result". Before the UK joined the European Community in 1975, the question was: "Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?" So, at a guess, it might be: "Do you think that the United Kingdom should adopt the European single currency (the euro) instead of the pound?"


tony blair in front of polling station
Tony Blair: A fan of referendums
Q. So, we've had these referendums before then?

A. Only one for the whole of the UK - the one on the European Community. There have also been a number of referendums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on devolution, and in London on a mayor for the capital. Tony Blair's government appears rather keen on referendums. It has also promised referendums on the voting system for elections to the House of Commons and the introduction of regional government in England.


irish referendum vote count
Votes being counted in the Irish referendum
Q. They're planning to do what we tell them, are they?

A. Yes, in theory, anyway. Although parliamentary sovereignty means the government could over-ride the people's wishes, it would be a little odd to do so after specifically asking them for their opinion. Of course, in the cases of Scottish and Welsh devolution, this was got round by holding referendums again, nearly two decades later.


Q. And they seemed to back the Yes campaign blatantly as well - isn't that contrary to the whole principle?

A. The Neill Committee had something to say about that, particularly in the case of the Welsh vote where it really hung in the balance. The Conservatives have since seized on the issue and won the backing of independent MP Martin Bell and reform groups such as Charter 88 in their campaign for an indendepent review of how referendums are run.


Q. Why do you keep saying referendums, anyway? Shouldn't it be referenda?

A. The Oxford English Dictionary offers both plurals, but to the true pedant it is referendums. 'Referendum' is an Anglicisation of a Latin gerund, which by definition cannot have a plural. So when used as a noun the plural has to be a standard English one, thus you add an "S".

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