Saturday, April 05, 2003
Blackwell's Charge - 5th April 2003, 23.27

Lord Blackwell, in the House of Lords debate on the Convention on the Future of Europe, gave notice that he would table an amendment on any ratifying bill to ensure that a referendum was carried out.

What I do not accept is the argument that, like it or not, we have to go along with the best compromise that we can reach. The Government, and the people, have the opportunity—perhaps the last opportunity—simply to say no, to use our national veto. The initial consequence of that would be simply to preserve the status quo. In due course, however, it would almost certainly open up a healthy discussion about alternative futures for Europe—no doubt including what has previously been called "variable geometry" in which we might allow some countries to proceed on a course to closer integration in return for some looser arrangement which better served our interests, and in which I believe a number of other current and accession countries might want to join.

Whatever the outcome, and whatever view one takes about the best outcome, it is hard to believe that these are not fundamental proposals for our constitution. For that reason, whatever concessions the Government may achieve on defence or the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, I hope that many across the House will agree that the consequences of any treaty that reflects the intent of those proposals is likely to be so far reaching that no government should commit the country without a public debate and a referendum.

Of course I accept that the Government may wish to wait until they have completed the negotiations before making such a commitment. But I believe that this House would be within its rights to amend any ratification Bill to require a referendum if the constitutional issues that I have raised this afternoon are not addressed. I give notice to the Government that I would intend to table such an amendment in those circumstances.

Lord Blackwell, former Head of John Major's Policy Unit is also the author of a pamphlet, "THE END OF BRITAIN? Why we need a referendum on the proposals for a new European constitution", which was published by the Centre for Policy Studies on February 12th.


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