28/05/2003

Labour defends its position on European Convention

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today that a new European constitution would "not significantly change" the relationship between the EU and its member nations, adding that it would be another year until the final version is finalised.

In an interview with The Times newspaper, Mr Straw said that "there has never been a better chance for Britain to shape Europe".

He added: "Enlargement is a great British victory. The Europe that started with six countries will become 25 next year, safeguarding peace and democracy and boosting jobs and prosperity across the Continent. It also means the politics of Europe will be transformed.

"The new European constitution is also something Britain supports. It will create a stable rulebook setting out clearly the primacy of nation states. We need change to make enlargement and the EU work more effectively for all of us."

Mr Straw played down media reports suggesting that European law would take precedence over the sovereignty of British courts, saying that it had long been the case. Such independence, said Mr Straw, had been already ceded in the European Communities Act 1972 and in the Treaty of Rome in 1958.

He added: "In this EU, this government has a clear vision of Britain playing a full and leading role. [I don't think it is Britain's rightful place] to weaken our links and renegotiate treaties to make us 'associate members' - second-class members by another name. And under this government, it won't be."

The Tory Party has called for a referendum to be held so that the people of Great Britain could make their opinions known on the European Convention.

However, Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain, who has been Britain's negotiator in Brussels, ruled out a referendum saying that Britain was a democracy, not government by plebiscite – the national government was there to lead. He also said that voters should consider the MEP election next year as a referendum on the government's position.

(GMcG)

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