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All at sea over EU Constitution


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All at sea on the EU constitution

From The Daily Mail -

20th May 2005

Oh no we won't! Oh yes we will! Like pantomime dames, Ministers turn somersaults, contradict each other and lurch into confusion on one of the most important decisions Britain will ever take.

Only a month ago, Tony Blair was insisting that come what may, there will be a referendum on the EU constitution. "It doesn't matter what other countries do," he declared. "We'll have a vote." That message was repeated on Wednesday by Europe Minister, Douglas Alexander.

Yet at the same time, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was suggesting that the issue might not be put to voters. And now a crestfallen Mr Alexander admits the referendum isn't certain after all.

The explanation for this shambles lies in the saga unfolding across the Channel. In France, the polls point to a rejection of the constitution - albeit narrow - on May 29. The Dutch referendum, three days later, could go the same way.

Suddenly, the grandiose European dream is running into real opposition. Within weeks, the constitution could be dead in the water. So now Mr Blair sees the opportunity to get himself off the hook.

He only agreed to Britain's referendum in the first place to keep Europe off the election agenda. He is glad of any excuse to cancel a vote he is likely to lose. And to be fair, he can reasonably argue that it would be pointless to plunge Britain into the turmoil and expense of a poll, if the issue had already been decided elsewhere.

But there are other considerations. For decades, Britain has been dragged without its consent closer and closer to Brussels, while politicians lied over the implications. Remember claims that the constitution is just a 'tidying up exercise'?

Still it goes on. Today our hard-won optout from the 48-hour working week is at risk, while it seems our 'non-negotiable' budget rebate is about to be diluted.

And let it never be forgotten that in Europe 'no' doesn't necessarily mean no. Brussels has an unpleasant habit of rerunning referendums when it doesn't like the outcome. If the constitution is rejected, can anyone guarantee it won't be revived later, in a different guise?

Enough is enough. For too long, Europe has been driven by an unaccountable and sometimes corrupt elite that pays only lip service to public opinion.

Perhaps our referendum will become superfluous if - still a very big if - France and Holland spurn the constitution.

But our politicians don't deserve trust on matters European. We need a cast-iron guarantee that any future changes in EU Treaties will be subject to a democratic vote. It is time the British people had a say on what is being done in their name.


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