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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Tories step up EU vote pressure
Michael Ancram
Michael Ancram will call for a vote
The Conservatives have vowed to organise a petition to force the prime minister to hold a referendum on the draft European constitution.

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram accused the government, which has repeatedly rejected a poll on the issue, of "throwing in the towel" as negotiations on the text of the document continue.

He told the party's annual conference in Blackpool that Tories would "fight this damaging constitution with everything we've got".

Other EU countries are having referendums to decide - what is wrong with the British people that we cannot be trusted to decide
Michael Ancram
He also insisted that the foreign policy of a future Conservative government would "give Britain back its pride".

Mr Ancram argued that Britons "have the right to say yes or no" in a referendum on the EU constitution, which is said to be a necessary tidying up exercise for when an extra 10 states join the union.

'Capitulation'

"Other EU countries are having referendums to decide - what is wrong with the British people that we cannot be trusted to decide," said Mr Ancram.

"We will promote a petition to Parliament requiring a referendum because even this prime minister cannot ignore forever the collective voice of the British people.

I am tired of this government trying to make me ashamed of being British
Michael Ancram

"We believe in Britain and that means fighting for Britain and that means opposing the European constitution," he said.

Negotiations on the draft constitution began in Rome on Saturday.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the draft constitution was not perfect but the UK was looking to change it.

"Mr Ancram's speech says everything about the Conservative Party's visceral opposition to the European Union and Britain's place in it...," said Mr Straw.

"The Tories would lead Britain to the exit door of Europe, putting at risk British jobs, British trade and British national interest."

'Rewriting history'

While the government says no public vote is needed because the measure will not fundamentally change the way Britain is governed, Mr Ancram accused ministers of "capitulating" to those who wanted to build a "single European state".

He said the fact the Swedish had voted against the single currency proved that nothing in Europe was inevitable.

'"I don't know about you, but I am tired of this government trying to make me ashamed of being British," said Mr Ancram.

"I am fed up with seeing our history rewritten, of Labour ministers apologising for our past.

"I have one burning ambition - I want to be proud of my country again.

"I am sick and tired of a government that mocks our traditions, our culture, our currency and even our very Britishness."

'Outrageous lies'

The Tories wanted an EU that works, said Mr Ancram. "We don't want a tired old Europe, a prisoner of its own bureaucracy, living in a haze of ingrained anti-Americanism.

"We want a new Europe of democracies, ready to serve the ideals of a new generation, working together in a spirit of new enterprise.

"A Europe where power flows upwards from nation states and their peoples and not downwards from Brussels and its remote allies.

"One of this government's most outrageous lies is that diversity in Europe is impossible and that political integration is inevitable. Nothing in politics is inevitable, not if you fight it hard enough."

'Copying'

The UK Independence Party accused the Conservatives of copying the petition they started in May, which now had 100,000 signatures on it, including at least one Tory MP.

A UKIP spokesman said the Tories had refused to be involved with it at the time and he suspected his party was picking up members from them.

In non-Tory constituencies, the party also plans to press Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to deliver the petitions to Parliament after they are signed on high streets nationwide.

Mr Ancram claimed the government's foreign policy had been "a shameful catalogue of abandonment, betrayal, sell-out, dishonesty and total breach of trust".

Gibraltar had been "betrayed" over "a secret deal to share sovereignty with Spain" and the people of Zimbabwe and Burma had been "abandoned" despite promises of action.

Mr Ancram said the Tories would "not let up" until Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, his financial backers and "his whole brutal regime" were "gone forever".

National interest would be at the heart of a Conservative administration, but it would also be "true to our friends and true to our word".


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