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Ancram: Tony Blair must listen to British people and say No to the Constitution

Debate on European Affairs in the House of Commons

"These biannual debates on European affairs, which occur shortly before the meeting of Heads of Government in the European Council, are traditionally useful occasions when this House, as elected representatives of the British people, can express our view as to the positions that the Prime Minister should take at the Summit.

Rarely can there have been one as relevant and timely as this. On the day before the PM flies to Brussels to finalise agreement on the European Constitution, and three days after the results of the election to the European Parliament have been declared, there can never have been a clearer message for the PM to carry to the Council. The British people do not want this Constitution.

A year ago, when the full impact of the draft Constitution became apparent, it was publicly argued that 'if people didn't like what they were offered, they could vote against the Government in the European elections this year. These elections, it was argued, would more or less coincide with the end of this constitution. We were given to understand that the Government would be quite happy to fight the European elections on a Labour platform endorsing this treaty, and the Conservatives could oppose it, and then the people would decide.' These are not my words but the words of the RHM Neath, the Leader of the House.

Well the people have decided. In last week's election more than 50% voted for parties opposed to the Constitution. If the PM presses ahead with agreeing the Constitution, he will do so in the face of the democratically expressed will of the British people. If he does so, he cannot claim that he is representing the British people. This vote has rendered invalid his mandate to agree this Constitution if he ever had one. It was not in his general election manifesto. After this vote the PM has no moral authority to agree it. He should heed the will of the British people and go to Brussels to say No. And if he does, we for our part would welcome it.

But I fear he won't. He will tell us proudly about his 'red lines', his carefully choreographed battle for 'British interests' which have already been conceded by his European colleagues but which must appear to be fought and won to allow him to claim 'victory'. It would be a hollow and deceptive victory because it would not deal with the real dangers to British interests which this Constitution poses.

In the next two days we will hear a lot about these so-called 'red lines'. It's already started. Keeping national vetoes for Treaty change, for tax, for social security, for defence, for criminal procedure and as a general rule for foreign policy. We were told that there was 'no need' for a European Public Prosecutor. Making the Charter of Fundamental Rights anything other than a political declaration was also to be a 'red line'. The Government will undoubtedly claim that if these are met the Constitution will be acceptable.

They will be wrong. Admittedly if the 'red lines' were not met the Constitution would be even worse. But in reality these 'red lines' are red herrings, a last ditch and somewhat desperate distraction away from the fact that, even in their own terms, the current text is very different from the one they originally aimed for.

During the course of the Convention on the Future of Europe, the Government tabled two hundred and seventy five amendments to the text of the Constitution. Only ten were accepted into the Convention's final text. The score to date is Giscard 265, British Government 10!

So what happened to the 265 important amendments? Let's look at a few. Last year the RHM Neath tried to strike out the article giving the Constitution legal primacy. So why isn't that still a 'red line'?

On the EU Foreign Minister, the present Leader of the House wrote: 'We do not accept the title "Foreign Minister" as it is misleading as he/she will have no Ministry… We suggest "EU External Representative". This is unacceptable as it stands.'

So why isn't that a 'red line'? Or is that because they are now hell bent on creating an EU diplomatic service with its own embassies and its own ambassadors working to its own Foreign Minister?

The Government wanted to rewrite completely the article on asylum. They described this as "a fundamentally important amendment". They failed. So why isn't this still a 'red line'?

And what's happened to all the other amendments? Why have they apparently been surrendered?

I won't try the House's patience by going through the whole long list of them, but unless the great bulk of these amendments are secured by the PM this week, the Government will have done something quite extraordinary: they will have demonstrably failed, not in our terms, not in the British people's terms, but in their own terms!

What the PM will be facing tomorrow is not a 'tidying up' exercise. It is not a mere consolidation of existing treaties. It is what the Belgian Prime Minister has described as the 'capstone' of a 'federal state'.

If the Government is to be believed that it is fighting to protect British interests there are some simple benchmarks.

The PM should firmly say No to any Constitution. Countries have constitutions. The EU is not a country and must never aspire to become one. And only three years ago the PM himself was telling us that a constitution was not necessary. We will be told again that this is not a Constitution but a constitutional treaty. If you believe that you will believe anything. The draft document calls itself 'a treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe'. And that is why he has to say No.

He has to say No to the constitutional imperative of a Europe 'united ever more closely'. We all know what that means.

Following on that, he should say No to giving the EU a single legal personality. It doesn't need one unless it is seeking to become a state in its own right.

He should say No, as the Government tried to do in their earlier amendment, to the article giving the EU Constitution legal primacy over our own.

He should say No to the EU having control over our asylum or immigration policy. Of course we can cooperate but we should not be told what our policy must be by Brussels.

He should say No to the EU having any control over our criminal law. Of course we need to work together to fight international crime and terrorism. But this must not mean the emergence of an EU criminal code which supplants our own.

He should say No to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If it has only the legal force of the Beano it is unnecessary. If it has any legal force, which our Government promised us it would not have, it must be opposed. I seem to remember his exact words were, "There is absolutely no possibility of us agreeing to this". We can look after our own fundamental rights. We don't need Europe's judges to do it for us.

And we must be wary of accepting bold assurances that attempts to harmonise taxes and to create a single Foreign and Security policy have been thwarted by the brave actions of our gallant PM. Left behind in the text will be 'aspirational' articles (1-14 & 1-15) requiring coordination of economic policies within the Union and active and unreserved support for the Union's foreign and security policy 'in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity' and compliance with 'the acts adopted by the Union in this area'.

If, in a constitutional context, the first does not mean a long term aim of achieving tax harmonisation it is not only hard to see what it means but even harder to see why it is still there. If the PM's claims to have achieved this 'red line' are to be believed, this should have gone too. The second is even more serious. This article could make anything which is not an EU Common Foreign Policy justiciable before the European Court of Justice. It is the backdoor to a single European Foreign Policy, something which would be disastrous for us and which the Government has assured us would not happen. If the PM means that, the he must insist that this article goes too.

Still we will be told that this proposed Constitution does not cross the threshold between the room marked 'a Europe of Nations' and the room marked 'a sovereign European State'. Maybe in its totality not. But it certainly moves from the ante-room of one to the ante-room of the other. And it doesn't take an immense step to move from one room to the other.

Let me quote from the written evidence to the Lords Select Committee on the Constitution by Professor John McEldowney of the University of Warwick, 15 October 2003: "While the Constitution may constitute the sum total of the existing Treaties, revised and refined, it is also endowed with a status of a Constitution - even though this status is not well defined or explained. Inevitably the status of a Constitution invites interpretation by the courts and this adds an additional dimension of how judges might interpret the terms of the Constitution."

If the PM was true to his past words, and recognised the strength of feeling expressed by the British electorate last week he would go to Brussels to say No. I hope for Britain's sake he will. I fear he won't. He after all is the PM who twice over the last four years has called for the creation of a European "superpower".

And this is the Government's real agenda. They talk the talk of the Europe of Nations. They walk the walk of an increasingly integrated and politically united Europe. The signs are there.

First there was the report of Romano Prodi's 'group' set up under the Chairmanship of Dominique Strauss Khan, including former Government Minister and confidant of the PM Lord Simon of Highbury.

The report says that the formation of the EEC was no more than a first step in the federation of Europe. The report clearly maps out the desired path. "The time has now come to take the second step: that of the march towards political union". Mr Strauss Khan helpfully explains how it will all be achieved. "As demonstrated by the draft Constitutional Treaty, there will be no "revolutionary leap" to a political Europe: It will be built by small reforming steps."

Those steps are as follows:

First Stage (2004 - 05): adopt the draft Constitutional Treaty produced by the European Convention

Second Stage (2005 - 06): develop the context and the financing of Union policies in negotiations on the next financial perspective.

Third Stage (starting in 2007): bring the European model to life within the first European Constitution.

Fourth Stage: make use of the experience acquired to define the next political phase.

"The need to make further progress towards political union will become clear."

Not the Government's position we are told. Not quite - except for another report, the declaration by the Party of European Socialists published last February called 'Europe 2004 - Changing the Future'.

It's an interesting document. It talks about eliminating "all unfair competition between the national social security systems of our Member States." Where would that leave the Government's red line?

It talks about "the idea of an international tax continues to gain ground and should be explored, such as a tax on speculative movements of capital, on CO² emissions, or a global tax on multinational corporate profits." Where would that leave the Government's red line?

It talks about "a common immigration policy"

It talks about "a move towards single EU seats in the different international organisations." And that would mean losing our seat on the UNSC to an EU representative who on all past evidence would rarely represent the British view.

Not the Government's position we are told again. That doesn't work this time. This document is actually signed by the Minister for Europe. In his political rather than his ministerial capacity we are told. Not quite. He is down as signing as the UK Minister for Europe. Even so, the Deputy PM told me last week, it isn't government policy. Well, if the Minister for Europe doesn't speak for the Government on Europe, who on earth does? And if he doesn't, why on earth is he still in his job?

There is something rather endearing about the Minister for Europe. When his government is busy setting down smokescreens he invariably lets the cat out of the bag. And this time the cat is the cat of further European integration which has always covertly been the government's aim.

To disguise this, the Government led by the PM and aped by the Minister for Europe set out extremely foolishly to suggest that the only question on Europe was between staying in or getting out. They sought quite deliberately to polarise the argument, to deny that there was any position in-between. The results of that polarisation were clear on Sunday and they have only themselves to blame.

They deliberately set out to try to hide the fact that there is another option, a more constructive, more sensible and more forward-looking way. It is our way, and in the election it was the option which secured the most votes.

Our policy would make the EU more open, more accountable and more efficient. It would be an EU that would not try to do everything, but that would do what it does better

We want to build a flexible Europe, following the precedents set by the opt-outs from the Euro and the Schengen agreement. Enhanced co-operation enables some Member States to go ahead with further integration, even when others do not want to do so. So countries which wanted to integrate still further could so but others would not be compelled to join them.

The Conservative approach will anchor national parliaments at the heart of the EU law-making and decision-making process. We want to see a red card system introduced. If, say, five or more national Parliaments object to new, or existing, European legislation on the grounds of subsidiarity or proportionality it should be withdrawn or repealed.

The EU Commission should lose its monopoly right of initiative on legislation and share it with Member States.

The current rotating Council presidency should be reformed by establishing rotating team presidencies of perhaps one year, involving big and small members. This would allow the burden of chairing the Council of the European Union to be shared between members.

The acquis communitare needs to be systematically reviewed so that powers which would be better administered by the nation states are returned to them.

Defence and foreign affairs co-operation should be defined in practical organisational terms. This would allow ad hoc coalitions and pan-European action where desirable and task-specific, all within the NATO structure.

The Common Fisheries Policy is emptying our seas of fish and has utterly failed our fishermen. We will negotiate to restore local and national control over British fisheries.

This will be the start. For too long we have sat back as powers were leached away from national parliaments to Brussels. We intend to reverse the conveyor-belt, by restoring powers back to Westminster from Brussels when they can better and more efficiently be exercised here. And we are not alone. The Dutch Foreign Minister, Bernard Bot, has called for cultural policy, parts of the CAP and the Social Chapter to be returned to nation states' control. When the Constitution fails - as it should - and Europe goes back to the drawing board, there will at last be the opportunity of negotiating for a Europe in which the nations matter again.

Mr Speaker. The whole weight of evidence, of argument and of popular opinion is ranged against this wretched constitution. The opportunity to reject it and to build a better more people friendly Europe is there. I fear that with all the deeply inculcated arrogance of New Labour and their contempt for democratic opinion, that opportunity will be squandered.

I fear the PM will return to this House on Monday, full of tales of negotiating derring-do, of red lines protected, but with an agreed and damaging constitution in his hand.

If in the face of British public opinion he does that, then there is one valid challenge he should accept. Put it to the people in a referendum now. Don't wait 14 months until he hopes he can bamboozle the British people into supporting it. He should have the courage of his convictions. Get on with it, and let the people decide.

Or do even better by the British people. Reject this Constitution now."

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