Labour denies us vote on 'constitution'

MOST people want a referendum on the revived EU Constitution, the Treaty of Lisbon. How do I know this? Because the test of public opinion recently carried out by the privately-sponsored “I Want a Referendum” campaign in 10 constituencies across Britain, revealed that 87.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

MOST people want a referendum on the revived EU Constitution, the Treaty of Lisbon. How do I know this? Because the test of public opinion recently carried out by the privately-sponsored “I Want a Referendum” campaign in 10 constituencies across Britain, revealed that 87.9% wanted a referendum and 88.8% said `no' to the Treaty of Lisbon.

The figures were even higher in Harlow, one of the chosen constituencies.

Last week, the Government slammed the door in the face of public opinion. It mobilised its majority in the House of Commons to reject the Conservative call for a referendum. It is not surprising that voters are becoming increasingly cynical about a political process which pays little attention to their concerns.

What happens now? The Bill on the Treaty of Lisbon goes to the House of Lords. If peers amend the Bill to require a referendum, it will return to the Commons.

The Government would then use the Parliament Act to force through an unamended Bill - but this cannot be done before January 21 2009 - this would scupper the EU's plans to have everything in place by 1 January.

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Unfortunately it would not derail the Constitution itself. Our only hope in this case is that the Irish, in their referendum in June, will say `no.'. Otherwise, I shall push hard for Conservatives to be in a position to put Brussels on notice that an incoming Conservative government would give the British people their referendum.

While clearly there is much that I oppose in the EU, I continue to try to get the best out of it for the people of Suffolk and Essex, for our local businesses, farmers and communities.

Between 2007 and 2013, some £203 million is set to come to the East of England as EU structural funds (this is, of course, British taxpayers' money recycled through Brussels). I have previously managed to tap into this funding to give direct support to around 110 small businesses and over 1,000 individuals to enhance their skills through the BUILD project.

There are many other areas that are crying out for funds. I immediately think of two examples - our abysmal road and rail systems and the threat to our coastlines. I have been active on both. I have pressed the Department for Transport to make use of EU funds to pump-prime much needed projects to upgrade the A14, A120 and the Felixstowe-Nuneaton rail link. Another opportunity presents itself next month when further bids are due for so-called Trans-European Network funds.

A FEW days ago I met local activists who were concerned at failures to maintain Southwold's crumbling harbour walls and to repair breaches in the defences on the Blyth river estuary.

Thousands of local residents have demonstrated about the impact of neglected sea defences on the beautiful beaches at Walberswick. Working with local councillors and residents groups, I am now trying to find ways to access EU funds for practical local benefit.

Geoffrey Van Orden is Conservative MEP for the East of England focusing on Essex and Suffolk. He can be contacted at 88 Rectory Lane, Chelmsford CM1 1RF or by email at: gvanorden@europarl.eu.int

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