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What we would have liked to see from the Government today is a little less spin and little more humility. The idea that the United Kingdom achieved all its key objectives at the intergovernmental conference or kept our national veto in all key areas of concern is a complete fantasy.
This constitution is bad for Britain and bad for Europe, and it has now been comprehensively rejected by the people of France and the Netherlands, yet the political dinosaurs at the helm in France and Germany, and the army of Eurocrats whose careers depend on the gravy train, act as though nothing at all has happened. What is it about "no" that they do not understand? I may no longer practise medicine, but I can tell a corpse when I see one, and this constitution is a case for the morgue if ever I saw one. This is a dead constitution.
What is the response of our Government? Is it to be bold and give a clear direction? No, it is, "We see no point in proceeding at this moment." What does that mean? Do they want to proceed at another moment, or soon, or never? What are they waiting fora lead from the people of Luxembourg? What it means is that the niceties of EU diplomatic etiquette are being put before sound reason. It is not the hand of history on the Prime Minister's shoulder, but the hand of Peter Mandelson. This complacent, condescending response could have been faxed directly from the offices of Barroso, Chirac or Schröder: "Put your Bill on hold, but don't stop the process. Don't rock the Euro boat."
The Foreign Secretary said in his statement that it is not for the UK alone to decide the future of the treaty. He is wrong. Rejection by the British people would bring an end to this wretched process. The loss of the constitution is not a crisis for the people of Europe; it is an opportunity. The crisis is a crisis of leadership. While our Government dither about what to do, people in boardrooms up and down this country are trying to make investment decisions, and they want clarity and certainty. Those decisions will affect jobs and prosperity in this country, so let the Foreign Secretary give us some clarity.
Will the Government, at next week's summit, be pressing for other Governments to declare the treaty dead and bring the ratification process to an end? If not, what will our position be? What will happen to the accession talks during the period of paralysis, and what will be the status of the Bills preparing for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania? More important, will the Foreign Secretary give the House an assurance that there will be no attempt to introduce any part of this constitution by the back door, and that any further transfer of power away from the British people will result in a referendum? Will he give us an assurance that, following the summit next week, the Prime Minister will come to the House and tell us either that the treaty is dead and the ratification process is over or that we will have a referendum so that the British people can add their voice to the voices of the Dutch and the French in rejecting this dated and dangerous constitution?
Europe is having its "emperor's new clothes" moment, and the voters have seen through the self-serving agenda of Europe's ruling elite. We now need to get on with building a different Europea Europe that works with, not against, the instincts of nation states, and in which sovereign countries co-operate where it is
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in their mutual interests to do so but retain the freedom to act independently when their national interests require it.
Here in the United Kingdom, only a month after the general election, the centrepiece of the Government's foreign policy has been blown apart. This, as the Foreign Secretary pointed out, is the treaty that the Prime Minister has already signed. He negotiated it in our name, and it was at the centre of his last crusade for a continent. But we have had eight years of the Government getting it wrong on Europe. They were wrong on the euro. The Prime Minister said that
some destiny! They were wrong on the social chapter, wrong to sign away our controls on immigration and asylum and wrong on this constitution. My advice to the Foreign Secretary is, "Have some courage man and declare this constitution dead".
We should all thank the Dutch and the French for their liberation from the constitution negotiated by the Prime Minister. The game is now up for Europe's political elite. The people of Europe must be the masters now.
Mr. Straw: May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy at the beginning of his remarks, and take this opportunitythe first I have hadto congratulate him on his appointment as shadow Foreign Secretary?
I listened with very great care to what the hon. Gentleman said, and much of it seemed simply to be re-running the arguments of the election of six weeks ago, which he lost. The Conservatives made those arguments central to the election campaign in which they were comprehensively defeated. As for investment decisions and jobs, let me just remind the hon. Gentleman that this Government have one of the finest economic records of any Government in the western world and of any Government in British economic history.
Let me deal now with the questions that the hon. Gentleman raised. He asks me about our position at next week's summit. We will make judgments about our position at next week's summitbased on the statement that I have made todaymuch nearer the time. Meanwhile, there will be a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Councilof Foreign Ministerson Sunday and Monday, and an opportunity for the House further to discuss the matter when we discuss the forthcoming European Council next Wednesday, 15 June.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about accession talks during this period. I am pleased to reassure him that these talks will continue. One of the leaders of one of the countries that has expressed publicly in the past some reservations about the possible accession of Turkey, Chancellor Schüssel of Austria, is himself on record as saying that he wishes the negotiations to continue, and I believe that that will be the case.
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether we are intending to introduce any part of the constitution by the back door. The answer to that is no, we are not, but there is a question here[Hon. Members: "But."] There is a but. There is a real "but" for serious Members of the House. I understand the points of engagement and of controversy about this constitution. I would have looked forward to that engagement in the country as a whole. However, many parts of the constitution were
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reforms that were widely agreed in all parts of the House. For example, there were the proposals to give real flesh to the idea of subsidiarity, the proposals to give national Parliaments a new and better say over EU legislation, and the proposals to provide for yellow cards.
If the Commission or the Council were themselves to suggest that we should introduce these things by other means, it would be absurd to put such proposals to a referendum. We ought to agree to them straight away.
Mr. Straw: Of course we should. Is it seriously being suggested from the Opposition Front Bench that proposals that happen to be in the constitution but could, I hope, be introduced in any event in a separate way, which would strengthen the role of this national Parliament, must go to a referendum? That is an absurd position, and exposes the vacuity of the Opposition's position.
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on striking the difficult balance of making it clear that the Dutch and French referendums have derailed the constitution without using language that would enable the Dutch and French Governments to blame him for being the obstacle that caused the crash? I believe that my right hon. Friend's statement achieved that balance very well.
This was the fourth major attempt in 15 years to rewrite the treaties. Would we not have had a better chance of getting a yes vote last week if, instead, leaders had focused on delivering the promise of full employment that we gave in Lisbon five years ago? If we really want to reconnect Europe with the peoples, should not the first priority of the forthcoming British presidency be to deliver on that promise rather than attempting a fifth rewriting of the treaties?
Mr. Straw: I fully share my right hon. Friend's central tenetthat the test of the EU has to be its outcomes and not its process. I would say that we wanted the change of process that is contained within the constitution not for its own sake but so that the outcomes could be better and more quickly implemented. In France, for exampleand of course no means no; I am not trying to dissect the no votethe surveys of "no" voters show that their concerns were as much domestic as they were European. Above all, there are concerns about problems of unemployment in France. There were similar but different concerns inside the Netherlands. Delivering on outcomes has always been our top priority in Europe, as it has been in the UK. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that ensuring a real delivery throughout Europe on Lisbonon which we, the UK, have deliveredis essential.
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