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Evans: Standing up for British interests

Speech to the Conservative Party Spring Conference

Iraq

Our debate has reflected the serious issues facing our country.

I recognise that people are uneasy.

The many who have demonstrated in the UK, and elsewhere in the world, are voicing genuine concerns and real fears.

But there can be no doubt about this:

The price of security for our world is that Saddam Hussein must be disarmed.

And the Conservative Party and our Leader are right to say so. There are those who have argued that we would have been wiser to manipulate this crisis for Party advantage.

After all they argue, already more than 120 Labour MPs and all of Labour's MEPs have voted against Tony Blair's policy.

They are wrong.

A responsible Opposition party must behave responsibly in defending our people from the threat of rogue states, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Our thoughts today are with our Armed Forces in the Gulf. Our Party's focus was on them last October in Bournemouth, when I asked Simon Weston to come to address our Party Conference. And what a moving and compelling speech Simon made.

Whatever the coming days and weeks may hold, let us be united in our gratitude and support for the young men and women in our Armed Forces.

But let us also be clear about this.

In the face of Saddam's evasions, lies and threats, and the record of his regime, then if all else fails he must be disarmed by force.

These events have also demonstrated some fundamental truths for Europe.

First, we have seen a determined campaign by Jacques Chirac to undermine the unity of NATO. He is playing with fire. The refusal of France, Germany and Belgium to support contingency defence arrangements for Turkey was disgraceful and a threat to NATO itself.

He has an ally in the discredited German Chancellor Schroeder. And yesterday we heard that Chirac also now has the support of that other major European statesman Charles Kennedy.

Chirac, Schroeder and Charlie Kennedy. What a European dream team.

But while the Lib Dems may be in his pocket, Jacques Chirac has found that he has failed to carry most European countries.

To start with, our Party's Christian Democrat allies in Germany have strongly supported the US and Britain. And they have been joined by our other centre-right allies in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Denmark. Many of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe who are about to join the EU have also backed the US.

In response, President Chirac denounced these countries as though they were naughty schoolchildren. He is trying to bully them by delaying their entry to the European Union. What arrogance.

But Chirac cannot have it both ways. Any prospect of a common European Foreign Policy or Common Defence Policy has been exposed as complete nonsense by his own conduct in recent weeks.

I want to make it clear that we stand resolutely behind NATO as the bedrock of our security and defence.

Europe

We are a free nation, free to speak our own minds, and we must be free to conduct our own policies in our own national interests.

And that is the approach my colleague Timothy Kirkhope, supported by Alexander Stockton, take in pressing our Party's values and principles in the current Convention debate over the future of Europe.

Just over a year ago, the governments of Europe decided that they should take a long hard look at the way the European Union worked.

This was a chance to try to make European structures more democratic, more open , more accountable, and more relevant.

It sounded a good idea.

But the first step that they took was to put the leadership of this project in the hands of a 77 year-old former President of France, who had left office as President over 20 years earlier.

The resulting proposals are predictable:

A European constitution

A Common European Foreign Policy

A Common Defence Policy

A European Army

Brussels control, over home affairs and justice

Harmonisation of taxes

And more powers for Brussels over economic and social policy.

For us the issue is clear

We think British people want a Europe which does less - not more- but does it better.

They want a Europe in which nations cooperate together, but does not impose rigid conformity.

They want a Europe of sovereign states spending more time creating jobs rather than destroying them through regulation social chapters and red tape.

They want Britain to be in Europe not run by Europe.

That's why we won that spectacular victory at the last European Elections.

That's why I now lead a team which is the largest group of MEPs from the UK and the second largest from any country in the European Parliament - greatly enhanced by the decision of Richard Balfe Labour's longest serving MEP to cross the floor and join us.

We also promised to fight for the British taxpayer against fraud and maladministration.

That's why, just over seven months ago, Marta Andreassen, the Chief Accountant of the European Commission came to me as Leader of the British Conservatives with her concerns about the Commission's accounting practices.

Every Conservative should be proud of that.

Because Marta Andreassen knew that of all the MEPs from 15 countries throughout Europe it was the British Conservatives who could be relied on to challenge wrongdoing.

And we've done just that.

My colleague Chris Heaton Harris, our Budget Control spokesman has done a fantastic job in his determined campaign to get at the truth behind this scandal.

The Vice President of the European Commission isn't happy with us. Neil Kinnock would prefer that the EU budget of £60 billion is just signed off without challenge.

But this week, more evidence emerged from inside the Commission confirming the accuracy of Mrs Andreassen's allegations. We're demanding that Neil Kinnock publish the truth and explain why these papers have been hidden from Parliament and his fellow Commissioners. Neil has got plenty of explaining to do, and as we know his explanations are never short.

We delivered a European Inquiry into the scandal of the Labour Government's handling of the Foot & Mouth outbreak, when the Government blocked all attempts to set up such an independent public inquiry in the UK.

We've battled day in and day out against countless employment and environment regulations which destroy British jobs, - and usually in the teeth of opposition from Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

We've worked closely with British business to open markets and challenge illegal barriers to trade.

We've campaigned for the people of Zimbabwe against the oppression of Mugabe. We've worked relentlessly on behalf of Nigerian women sentenced to death by stoning. We've worked to secure the constitutional rights of the people of Gibraltar - including the right to take part in the next European elections.

I am proud of the team I lead in the European Parliament. I know our Party are proud of them too.

They are widely recognised as the most cohesive and effective political operators in the European Parliament.

Together with our newly selected team of talented European candidates, we will be a formidable campaigning force in the coming elections.

We have an outstanding record of Delivering for Britain.

And we are a united team

United in our support for Conservative values and principles

United in our determination to stand up for British interests

United in our confidence that working with our allies we can defeat socialism and lay the foundations for the return of Conservative Government.

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