Let battle be joined on Europe, says Blair

The British people will have the final say on the proposed EU constitutional treaty in a referendum, Tony Blair announced today.

The Prime Minister told MPs: "Parliament should debate it in detail and decide upon it. Then let the people have the final say.

"The electorate should be asked for their opinion when all our questions have been answered, when all the details are known, when the legislation has been finally tempered and scrutinised in this House, and when Parliament has debated and decided.

"The question will be on the treaty, but the implications go far wider. It is time to resolve once and for all whether this country, Britain, wants to be at the centre and heart of decision-making or not.

"Time to decide whether our destiny lies as a leading partner and ally of Europe or on its margins.

"Let the Eurosceptics, whose true agenda we will expose, make their case. Let those of us who believe in Britain in Europe not because we believe in Europe alone, but because we believe in Britain, make ours.

"Let the issue be put. Let the battle be joined."

Mr Blair spent much of his statement attacking the "myths" surrounding the statement, such as the Queen being removed as head of state or Britons being forced to drive on the right.

He said the new constitution was needed because of the EU's enlargement from 15 to 25 and then 27 member states - "an historic event".

The Opposition Leader Michael Howard welcomed the u-turn, saying the Prime Minister had "at long last seen sense".

He mocked Mr Blair's change of heart, recalling his previous opposition to a referendum, and asked: "Who will ever trust you again!"

In a statement, the Prime Minister acknowledged the "unrelenting" Eurosceptic campaign peddling "myths" about the constitution had been "partially successful" and it was time to confront this "head-on".

Provided the Treaty embodied the "essential British positions," the Government would agree to it.

"Once agreed, either at the June Council, which is our preference, or subsequently, Parliament should debate it in detail and decide upon it. Then let the people have the final say.

"The electorate should be asked for their opinion when all our questions have been answered, when all the details are known, when the legislation has been finally tempered and scrutinised in the House and when Parliament has debated and decided."

Mr Blair said if Tory MPs objected to this, the latter words were a direct quote from Mr Howard speaking about referendums in 1997.

Mr Blair said: "The question will be on the Treaty but the implications go far wider.

"It is time to resolve once and for all whether this country, Britain, wants to be at the centre and heart of European decision–making or not – time to decide whether our destiny lies as a leading partner and ally of Europe or on its margins.

"Let the Eurosceptics, whose true agenda we will expose, make their case. Let those of us who believe in Britain in Europe not because of Europe alone but because we believe in Britain and our national interests lying in Europe – let us make our case too.

"Let the issue be put and let the battle be joined."

Mr Blair said EU enlargement was right for Europe and for Britain. "Within the space of a few years Europe will be transformed. It will be easily the strongest political union and greatest economic market in the world.

"Britain should be at the heart of it. That is its right and its destiny."

A significant part of the Treaty was a repetition of articles already in force.

Britain would cooperate in making the EU work better as a "Europe of sovereign nation states".

The national veto must remain in areas like taxation, foreign policy and defence.

"We will insist on the necessary amendments to the present draft Treaty to ensure beyond doubt that they do.

"On this basis the Treaty does not and will not alter the fundamental nature of the relationship between member states and the EU," he added to Tory cries of "rubbish!".

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