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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
At-a-glance: Referendum statement
Here are the main points of Tony Blair's statement about holding a referendum on the new European constitution, together with the main party leaders' responses.

TONY BLAIR

Enlargement

  • The prime minister opened his statement by saying that European enlargement was a "historic" step and would transform Europe within a few years.
  • "I say unhesitatingly that enlargement is right for Britain and for Europe," he said.
  • Mr Blair said the new-shape Europe had to be centred around "sovereign states".
  • That meant keeping the national veto on key issues during the negotiations on the new treaty this summer, he said.
  • 'Mythology'

  • Mr Blair said "myths" about the new constitution had been spread by politicians and parts of the media hostile to the project.
  • It was wrong, for instance, to suggest that the Queen would be replaced as the head of state.
  • It was already agreed that Britain would keep its right to control its borders, he said, and the British criminal justice system was not at stake.
  • Referendum pledge

  • Mr Blair said there had been an "unrelenting, and I have to admit partially at least, successful campaign to persuade Britain that Europe is a conspiracy aimed at us".
  • Such claims were nonsense and had to be confronted, he argued.
  • Parliament should debate the treaty once it was agreed, "then let the people have the final say", said Mr Blair.
  • The referendum would focus on the new constitution but its implications would go wider.
  • "It is time to resolve whether this country, Britain, wants to be at the centre and heart of European decision making or not," said Mr Blair.

    Tory threat?

  • The prime minister said the Tories opposed the constitution in its entirety and wanted Britain reduced to "associate membership" of the European Union.
  • The choice was for Britain either to be at the heart of Europe or to "retreat to the margins", as Tory Eurosceptics wanted, said Mr Blair.
  • Asked if ministers would be able to campaign on either side of the referendum campaign, the prime minister said it was the government's collective position to support the constitution.
  • CONSERVATIVE LEADER MICHAEL HOWARD

    U-turn mocked

  • The Tory leader welcomed the prime minister's change of heart, saying Mr Blair had "at long last seen sense".
  • Mr Howard read out some of the prime minister's previous statements opposing a referendum on the constitution, saying: "Who will ever trust you again!"
  • The Tory leader demanded to know when the policy had changed and whether the U-turn was down to principle or just opportunism.
  • Mr Howard mocked Labour MPs as being the "loyal foot soldiers of Grand Old Duke of Spin".
  • They had been "marched up to the top of the hill" to oppose a referendum three weeks ago and now were being marched back down again, he said.

    Timing

  • Mr Howard appealed for a referendum to be held as soon as possible after EU leaders agreed a constitution deal, rather than waiting for MPs to scrutinise the new treaty.
  • There was "no case whatever" for asking Parliament to spend months on ratifying the treaty before holding a referendum.
  • He went on: "How can the prime minister say: 'Trust the people, but not just yet?'"
  • Rejection impact?

  • Mr Howard said that if any European Union country rejected the constitution the document would be "dead".
  • Britain would remain in the EU even if it rejected the constitution, said the Tory leader.
  • Mr Howard added: "Let's have the honest debate about Europe that the prime minister says he wants - not a debate about the Aunt Sallies which his statement was full of."
  • LIB DEM LEADER CHARLES KENNEDY

  • Mr Kennedy welcomed the referendum decision, whatever its motives.
  • He said the decision was "overdue" but worried that Mr Blair could fit in the vote according to his own general election timetable.

    Spin worries

  • The public wanted unbiased information about Europe, said the Lib Dem leader.
  • "Those of a Eurosceptic or hostile disposition have been allowed far too much of the running," said Mr Kennedy.
  • He urged the prime minister to re-establish a cross-party, pro-European British campaign group.
  • "Spin" from Downing Street would not help the campaign, he warned.

  • Mr Kennedy pressed for an "unloaded, unbiased question, subject to the Electoral Commission".
  • He described the vote as "an opportunity to at last settle an issue that has bedevilled two generations of politicians."




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