Richard North, 09/02/2005  

Extracts from this morning's Today programme. Jim Naughtie picks up the point about this treaty not being the last, that it is part of a process. Straw is obviously uneasy with this line, denies it and changes the subject.

JN: Isn't it obvious… that most people in this country agree with what Michael Ancram said earlier that this constitution is a gateway to a country called Europe and don’t believe that if they sign up to the constitution that this would be an end of it?

JS: …Let me just deal with this central issue about whether this constitutional treaty is… an irreversible first step towards a country called Europe or it fixes the limits of Europe. The truth is… that it does the second and not the first. It does provide… a stable framework and it literally limits the powers of the European Union and says two other things.

Number one: all of these powers come from the nation states that make up this club. Number two, there is provision by which some of the powers, as national parliaments and national government collectively have to decide, can be handed back to the national governments themselves.

And it does other, very important things which should be reassuring for the British public. It makes the European Union better managed, which we need. It also provides for a far greater level of accountability of what happens in Brussels, both to national governments and to national parliaments.

This latter point is really important. I want to see a Brussels which is more accountable. They do make decision which we want them to make, but which have, for example the Common Agricultural policy, have important effects on the United Kingdom. So we want more accountability. We’re going to get it

JN: But foreign secretary, aren’t people right to look at this constitution and say that it is likely to go further in the direction that it takes us rather than back. It’s perfectly accurate to say that of course it allows for powers to be given back, so to speak – it’s a crude way to put it – as well as the other way around. That’s absolutely true.

But what people say is look, this is part of a process and it’s a process which is reducing the number of areas over which the veto is uses. Of course Europe moves by consent. Of course things can’t happen in various areas if a country objects. All that is true.

But aren’t they right to say that this is a referendum, which in the view of many people, inside the system, not just in Brussels, but in many other European capitals is a step along a road and if you don’t want to go down that road, which is a choice people are perfectly free to make, they’re right to say no to this constitution

JS: No. I understand the sentiment, but actually it’s wrong. What this does is say thus far and no further and actually brings back in practice influence to the nation state.

JN: Do you think nobody wants another treaty on top of this one? People are talking about it in Europe all the time.

JS. I don’t think they are. I tell you… anybody who's been through the experience of negotiating a treaty certainly doesn’t want another treaty. There is a sense… that there have been many treaties in the last 15 years and anybody who thinks

We needed, number one, to consolidate the treaties and number two, we wanted to make the way in which the treaties operated more accountable to national parliaments and national peoples….

To be continued. My suspicion is that the "continuing process" argument is the one to emphasise. Naughtie has picked up that, "People are talking about it in Europe all the time." It is undeniable because it is true. Saying "yes" to the constitution is like putting your signature on a blank cheque.

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