Blair won't budge on British rebate

Tony Blair last night refused to budge on Britain's EU rebate and called for a "period of reflection" on the fledgling European constitution.

Tony Blair last night refused to budge on Britain's EU rebate and called for a "period of reflection" on the fledgling European constitution.

He said he believed it was possible fellow leaders could agree to put the constitutional treaty on ice at a summit in Brussels at the end of the week.

The Prime Minister said if a referendum were held now in almost any part of Europe, the answer would be No - following the lead of France and Holland.

Mr Blair was speaking at the British Embassy in Paris after talks with French President Jacques Chirac.

The PM said that although the meeting at the Elysee Palace had been amicable there had been sharp disagreement over Britain's cherished £3bn-a-year rebate.

Earlier, in talks with Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the EU presidency at present, Mr Blair turned down a formal proposal to freeze the rebate between 2007 and 2013. Downing Street said this would have cost the UK between e25bn (£16.7bn) and e30bn (£20.1bn).

Mr Blair said: "In respect of the constitution, I'm now more clear than ever before that it's right to have some pause for reflection before proceeding and I believe it's possible that we could reach an agreement at the European Council.

"I don't say it will happen, but I think it's possible."

On the row over the rebate, Mr Blair repeated his view that it was not up for negotiation unless there was a radical rethink of European finances.

He said: "The meeting I have just had with President Chirac was immensely amicable, but obviously there's a sharp disagreement.

"I think it's difficult to see these differences being bridged, but we continue to talk to people about it."

He insisted: "If people want a reconsideration of the rebate, there's got to be a reconsideration of the reasons for the rebate.

"This is not some special thing that's been given as a special privilege to Britain, this is a mechanism to correct what would otherwise be grossly unfair.

"I think we have to make this very clear, as I did to the presidency today: there can't be a reconsideration of this that doesn't involve a reconsideration of the essentials."

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