According to the Daily Mirror today (24 April 2004), Blair was warned by his own NEC not to risk a referendum. Leaked minutes of the NEC state: "Polls said that 90 per cent didn't understand it, so the vote would in fact be about something else and would probably end in a free pop at the Government."
That last sentiment is probably well founded, and it begs the question as to why Blair undertook something which is so evidently fraught with hazard. Clearly, Blair must have made his own assessment of the risk, and can hardly have come to a different conclusion. So why did he do it.
Several theories have been offered, my favourite being that he needed to stave off a collapse of the Euro election vote, which would have been personally humiliating when he went to the IGC summit on 18 June to agree the new treaty.
But there is also a possibility that, having announced a referendum, Blair either knew or suspected that this would challenge the fragile consensus stiched up by Bertie Ahern, on which any agreement might be reached. In other words, the very fact that the UK has committed to a referendum may mean that the IGC may unravel.
There may, therefore, be no treaty agreed in June. The Grand Old Duke of Spin may be marching his troops to the top of the hill, only to march them down again.