Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

The British people will say “No”

Conservative Party Conference - October 5th 2004

Mr Chairman

May 1st this year finally signified the end of the cold war and sealed the reuniting of a Continent which we failed to protect from being divided-up as a result of Communist tyranny, and it gives me great pleasure to work alongside my new friends from countries such as the Czech Republic, as well as our very old friends from France and Portugal, all present here today.

The EU will as a body of 25 states have a population of 450 million with the right of all EU citizens to live, work or retire in any member state. This constitutes the biggest Economic zone in the world and a truly massive single market. It was after all a Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who achieved the single market in her push for the Single European Act in 1986. The EU has also achieved some of the highest environmental and food safety standards in the world. But none of this has required a EU Constitution! Enlargement is working fine without it.

We British Conservatives have never seen the need for a written UK Constitution, let alone an EU one, which is much more about the building of a “country called Europe”. You don’t have to take my word for it. Belgium’s Prime Minister Verhofstadt spelt it out clearly and unlike our government- honestly- when he said “We are creating a political union”. He later added, “The EU now acquires all the instruments of a federal state. The capstone of which is the Constitutional treaty”.

This is precisely why we reject this Constitution document in principle, which is far from being a tidying up job to consolidate the Treaties. In fact it formally sets-up the legal personality of the EU, explicitly enshrines the primacy of EU law, establishes the Foreign Minister creating a more coercive CFSP, and raises the visibility of the EU on the world stage with the new 5 year Council President. It dissolves the intergovernmental 3-pillar structure and there is extension of powers in criminal law investigation and a new energy chapter. Perhaps most worrying is the legally binding nature of the incorporated “Charter of Fundamental Rights” which will be a charter for litigation and judicial activism with an open invitation to the European Court of Justice to interfere in everything from our trade union relations to the control of our immigration and asylum policy.

We have problems enough with our own judiciary seeking to thwart the will of the UK Parliament, ever since we incorporated the Human Rights Convention into domestic law! Tories have fought long and hard against a single European taxation policy believing in competition between tax jurisdictions instead, but the proposed articles to give the EU exclusive competition powers and the coordination of economic policies, means that all this remains under threat, in spite of Mr Blair’s reassurance of his retaining our veto in tax and his claims that our rebate is secure. Commissioner Mandelson in his appointment hearings in the Parliament gave a very ambivalent response when questioned on his determination to protect the UK rebate.

We must always remember that businesses and jobs can all too easily move East to much less regulated jurisdictions such as Ukraine or further afield to India or China and we must seek to match the higher growth rates and productivity seen in the USA by building a flexible Europe. Of course the "one-size fits all" monetary policy of the overvalued Euro doesn’t help, hence our continuing opposition to the single currency. British business although keen to exploit the single market is now suffering under a deluge of EU red tape, rather than benefiting from the reforms required by the Lisbon Agenda.

As a party we stand for an EU doing “less but better” but also believe in a flexible Europe so that those countries which wish for more integration can do so through enhanced Co-operation. Conservatives call this the “live and let live approach” as we have seen over the differing arrangements for the Euro for Britain, Denmark and Sweden, or the Schengen area for border controls. None of this requires a Constitution.

Some of us had hoped back in 2001 after the Laeken summit declaration that there was a fresh will by Europe’s political elite to re-connect with the people, reduce EU bureaucracy and address the democratic deficit and look at areas of powers best returned to member state control. Alas, the combined efforts of the Convention and IGC have only succeeded in surrendering more powers to the EU.

I do not believe the Labour Government has put Britain at the heart of European decision-making or shaped the debate in our favour. Prime Minister Blair by agreeing over a Referendum has conceded that this Constitution fundamentally alters Britain’s relations with Europe. We believe the British people will say “No”.

The Prime Minister has said, “Let battle be joined” and so it will. He believes he can walk on water and persuade us to vote “Yes”. We are ready and confident of Victory. There will be no EU Constitution and I am sorry to say to my two friends present here to-day Jan Zahradil and David Heathcoat-Amory that there will be no statues erected in their memory as the EU Constitution’s founding fathers!