The Conservative Party pledged yesterday to delay the passage of the proposed European Union constitution through Parliament, and accused Tony Blair of running scared of a referendum.
Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, warned: "We will use every parliamentary device to thwart attempts to railroad this wretched constitution through."
Legislation to ratify a new governing treaty is expected this autumn if European Union leaders agree it in June. Although Mr Blair has a big Commons majority, the Tories are the largest party in the Lords and their peers will try to add a referendum to the Bill.
Opening a Commons debate on the EU constitution, Mr Ancram said the Government should "show some moral fibre" and "trust the people". He said: "If ever there has been an issue where the people have the right to say yes or no it must be this. The decisions we are about to take are historic, they will help to shape the future and the people surely have a right to have a say."
He claimed that the Government's agenda was to drive Britain into an integrationist Europe without anyone noticing. He said that the European Parliament elections on 10 June were "no surrogate" for a referendum, but urged voters to use the poll to give the Government the clearest possible message that they wanted a referendum.
Mr Ancram said: "This constitution irrevocably draws sovereignty away from the nation state towards the centre. I passionately believe that no government, and no parliament, has the right permanently to alienate the sovereignty of the people without their express consent.
"That is why I believe that in the current situation a referendum is essential, and that to refuse one is to strike another nail into the coffin of democratic credibility. We cannot accept a European constitution which has not received the consent of the people in a referendum."
Danes, Irish, Dutch and Portuguese people could be trusted by their governments. "There will be many other countries which will have the courage and honesty to hold referendums. But not the British. What a patronising insult." Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, accused the Opposition of talking "nonsense" and raising fears which were not justified. He said the Tories had demanded a referendum on every EU treaty since they left office but did not offer one when they were in power. Despite their repeated warnings, Europe was "nowhere nearer" to becoming a superstate.
He told MPs: "The myths about this [constitution] leading to a European superstate are now the stock-in-trade for today's Conservative Party. Frankly, they would put British jobs, trade and interests at risk by marginalising this country within Europe."
Mr Straw said: "This is the clear political divide on Europe - between a party of isolation and weakness and a government that is getting on with the job of reforming the structures of an enlarged union so it can better deliver on the issues which matter to people.
"The idea that Britain should withdraw into splendid isolation and detachment rather than engagement with the European Union is frankly absurd. We need to engage in Europe to make it more effective at dealing with common threats and at delivering the jobs and growth which people want."
The Foreign Secretary said it would be for Parliament to decide whether the treaty became part of British law. "Contrary to the myths they [the Tories] peddle, no superstate has appeared," he said.Reuse content