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Evans: Referendum needed on Convention

Speech by Jonathan Evans MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, on the European Convention, to the Brussels Plenary Session

Mr President,

The speeches that we have heard from our Convention representatives stand in stark contrast with what our own citizens are being told by our national leaders in relation to what is contained within the Convention document.

In the United Kingdom, the UK Government representative, Peter Hain, has dismissed the document as a mere tidying-up exercise, and although the UK Government is wont to correct Mr Hain from time to time, on this occasion our Prime Minister has promoted him to Leader of the House of Commons, so we might imagine that he approves of that statement.

But we do not have to look to Mr Hain's statement of some weeks ago: in the last 24 hours the British Foreign Secretary has given his judgment upon this Convention document. He has told people in the UK that there are no significant constitutional changes, that there is no significant change in the relationship between the EU and Member States, that the IGC will not be concluded until next year and that the UK will have a veto in relation to each and every decision. The document, he says, is a draft, and like any draft it is open to improvement and amendment. But now we are engaged in the hard bargaining, the last-minute agreements reached by democratically-elected Heads of State, and the Treaty must ultimately have the unanimous support of all Member States.

I shall just refer to a few areas: on foreign and defence policy, he says that a guarantee has been won, and that even if such proposals are put forward in relation to common and defence policies, "we will oppose them and we will have a veto". On the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Foreign Secretary said in the last 24 hours that "the net effect of our proposals will ensure that the Charter of

Fundamental Rights will not in any way extend the Union's competence or powers". Finally, in relation to economic matters he says "we do not support the existing text of Article 13, we do not support tax harmonisation, we have a unanimity lock on these proposals through the use of a veto."

That is the message that people are getting in the United Kingdom. It is not surprising in the context of this contrast that 88% of people in the United Kingdom in a massive recent poll indicated that they wanted to have a say in a referendum on these proposals. I am delighted to see that Mr Watson, somewhat late in the day, has started reading the Daily Mail and has now concluded that is a call that he personally should support as well. I look forward to seeing his press release, although I am bound to say I do not think his remarks today about qualified majority voting on foreign policy, and national parliaments having no say in relation to ratification, will be any part of what appears in the UK.

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