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Kirkhope: The British people will demand a referendum on the Constitution

Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, during the Debate on the Future of Europe, Strasbourg, 22 May 2007

Mr President, Prime Minister.

Today we are once again debating constitutions and institutions when the citizens of Europe are really more interested in jobs, prosperity, the environment and global poverty.

It is a myth that the European Union is in a crisis or paralysed and incapable of taking decisions, and this is the pretext that some governments are using to demand that the Constitution should be back on the table. I know that you, Prime Minister Prodi, believe this as well.

There is no constitutional crisis. Even the British Government has said that the EU is able to take decisions based on current treaties. The 'period of reflection' following the French and Dutch 'no' votes should, in my view, have been used to take a long, hard look at the reasons for the rejection of the constitution. Instead, the discussions now seem solely focused on what parts of it can be kept at all costs.

As someone who believes in my nation's membership of the European Union and the potential for good that Europe possesses, I am saddened by this debate. I have always believed there was a need to simplify and make more transparent the decision-making processes and institutions of Europe, as the Laeken Declaration of 2001 envisaged. The enlargement of the EU may indeed require some amendments to existing treaties or new treaties from time to time, but I cannot accept that this Constitution is required, nor is it desirable.

There is no doubt that the British people will demand a referendum on any new treaty that might propose additional powers for the EU, and my party would support that. We will watch with great interest the actions of the British Government in the weeks to come. Mr Blair will attend the Brussels Summit on the very eve of his retirement and he must not commit his successor in his absence. Gordon Brown should insist that he attend the summit alongside Tony Blair and take full responsibility for whatever his Government signs up to.

I hope that this kind of realism will guide Mr Brown's actions in the period leading up to and beyond the June European Council.

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