Blair launches his fight for 'yes' vote in Europe referendum

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Tony Blair came out fighting for a "yes" vote in the referendum on the new European constitution yesterday, declaring the treaty would create a union of which Britain could be proud.

The Prime Minister said he had "no hesitation" in recommending the constitutional treaty to the public as the Government published a 49-page guide to the constitution before its passage through Parliament next year.

The White Paper outlines why ministers believe a constitution is necessary and what it does in an attempt to dispel "myths" that it would create a European superstate.

In the foreword, Mr Blair wrote: "I have no hesitation in commending it to the country as a success and as a major step forward in creating the kind of Europe that the British people want: a flexible Europe in which Britain remains a strong and influential power; a wider, peaceful and free Europe to which we can be proud to belong; and an effective Europe which benefits all our lives."

He insisted that the treaty was "a good result for Britain and for Europe". And he used the document to take a fresh swipe at "myths" about the European Union, saying that the constitution would not create an EU superstate. He said: "It establishes clearly where the EU can and cannot act, and confirms the EU is a union of nation states."

But Conservatives condemned the White Paper for "mixing fact with spin", claiming it was filled with arguments "which are, at best, questionable and, at worst, plain wrong".

The document hailed the European Union as "the most successful way anyone has yet devised of managing relations between European countries whose national rivalries had, until 60 years ago, often been settled through conflict."

It said Europe had contributed a string of benefits to Britain, from 3 million jobs to a better deal for package holiday travellers. It also claimed that nearly half the final changes to the treaty were secured at the instigation of Britain.

The White Paper said: "The Government will now make the case in Parliament and in the country at large for Britain as a strong, confident and influential European power that can lead reform and modernisation, shape the debates, build alliances and win the arguments."

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, told MPs he believed "very strongly" that the British people would back the constitution in the referendum. Opening a day-long debate on the new treaty, he said: "We are going into this referendum campaign in order to win."

Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "This document is the gateway towards a country called Europe. It is in fact a constitution of a European superpower."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, backed the treaty but warned that the referendum would not focus on the merits of the constitution.

He said: "I find it difficult to believe that the capacity of the British people in these matters is so unlimited that, for example, the kind of discussion we have had here today ...will be the sort of discussion which they have in their own minds before they come to cast their vote."


* Europe gives access to a single market of 450 million people. UK exports to the EU are three times those to the US.

* More than 3 million British jobs are linked to exports to the EU and foreign investors employ 2 million people.

* The EU reinforces democracy, helping "to make a repeat of the world wars unthinkable".

* European co-operation helps to fight drug trafficking, child pornography and terrorism.

* The EU is spending millions of pounds to crack down on internet crime.

* Freedom to work and travel - Britons will make 40 million trips to EU countries this year.

* Guaranteed rights and lower prices for consumers.

* Holiday benefits such as emergency medical treatment and freer customs channels.

* Beaches, rivers and drinking water have become cleaner. EU is promoting co-operation against global warming.