Blair `non' on referendum call

THE Government this week firmly refused to call a referendum on the proposed European Constitution – and used European decisions taken by previous Conservative governments as its precedent.

THE Government this week firmly refused to call a referendum on the proposed European Constitution – and used European decisions taken by previous Conservative governments as its precedent.

Tony Blair told the Commons that former Tory premiers Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major had not held referendums on their respective decisions to take the UK into Europe, to join the Single European Market, and sign the Maastrict Treaty.

Thus, there was no need for one now on the EU's draft blueprint, which is designed to allow the Union to operate after it enlarges from 15 to 25 members next year.

For those who fear Britain is becoming trapped in a European superstate, the constitution is their worst nightmare. It creates a full-time EU president as well as a foreign affairs minister, and involves the UK giving up its veto on asylum as part of an extension of qualified majority voting.

You may also want to watch:

However the Prime Minister, who has been accused o running up the "white flag" to Brussels, has said he will not surrender Britain's veto on tax, defence and foreign policy, and will protect Margaret Thatcher's negotiated Budget rebate by refusing to abolish unanimity on fund-raising votes.

In a White Paper setting out the Government's formal response to the draft treaty drawn up by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's European Convention, Mr Blair said he was confident of securing a constitution that would be "good for Britain and good for Europe."

Most Read

He added: "Let me be clear: the Convention's end product – a draft Constitutional Treaty for the European Union – is good news for Britain.

"The Convention text spells out that the EU is a union of nation states and that it only has those powers which governments have chosen to confer upon it.

"It is not and will not be a federal superstate."

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram, however, accused the Government of betraying the trust of the British people by its "docile surrender" to the idea of a politically united Europe.

He renewed Tory demands for a referendum, telling MPs: "Whatever the spin, the changes proposed in this treaty are fundamental and constitutional. No Government has the right to agree them without the consent of the people."

He said the White Paper – entitled A Constitutional Treaty for the EU - as "not so much a White Paper as a white flag."

Other EU states saw the constitution as a step change along the route to full political union and a "significant number were putting it to a referendum, said Mr Ancram. "Why is our Government so frightened of trusting the people?"

And in Brussels, Conservative Euro MPs launched a postcard campaign to back their call for a referendum. Geoffrey Van Orden, East of England MEP warned: "We must not underestimate the seriousness of the proposed EU Constitutional treaty. It would fundamentally change the way in which we are all governed. The draft contains an enormous number of articles that are not in Britain's interest.

"The Government's White Paper is an exercise in deception and shows clearly that it is getting ready to cave in on once sacrosanct issues."

Even the federalist Liberal Democrats want a referendum. Leader Charles Kennedy, acknowledging the draft treaty was a progressive document, accused the Government of failing to win support for the changes by actively promoting the pro-European message.

ROBERT Sturdy, the senior Conservative Euro MP for the East of England region, has signed a petition against the exorbitant cost of holding meetings in Strasbourg, the European Parliament's second home. He finally lost his patience when Ryanair announced it had been forced to cancel flights to Strasbourg, the last remaining direct flight from the United Kingdom.

Mr Sturdy has always been opposed to having to travel to Strasbourg to vote on decisions made at the European Parliament's headquarters in Brussels. "The second EU base was originally set up to appease the French and it is estimated to cost £120 million a year for 625 MEPs and their staff to transfer across the border to hold votes when they meet there only four days a month.

"It is totally outrageous that we have to fund two parliaments. Can you imagine the UK parliament having to pack up its bags and transfer to Edinburgh to vote? That is the same kind of thing we are doing to keep the French happy and the sooner it stops the better."

"With 10 new countries set to join the EU with enlargement next year, raising the cost of Strasbourg by a further £20 million a year, surely now is the time to apply common sense and end this waste of time and taxpayers money."

Ryanair will suspend its flights from Stansted to Strasbourg on September 24 following a French court ruling outlawing it subsidies for flying to provincial destinations. MEPs will now have to drive to Strasbourg or fly to Frankfurt and take a train or taxi for the last leg of the journey, making it much more time-consuming and costly.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter