Blair blasts “dumb” eurosceptics

Prime Minister Tony Blair has insisted Britain will not surrender sovereignty to Brussels on key “red line” policies, despite his enthusiasm for the re-jigged EU constitution.

Speaking at the two-day EU summit, Mr Blair said he wanted to see the constitution up and running as quickly as possible, but balked at permanently handing over British powers to dictate criminal justice, tax and foreign policy.

The apparent change of policy emphasis has been viewed as the start of the war over Europe that will determine the course of the next general election.

Tory leader Michael Howard yesterday was quick to renew calls for a referendum on the constitution, arguing it would lead inexorably to a federal Europe and irreversibly damage British life and her institutions.

Tory party chairman Dr Liam Fox said Mr Blair was ‘selling out’ Britain over the constitution.

“The British people should decide what our laws are, we should decide what are priorities are, what we believe to be right and wrong and we should not hand over control of what is vital in our national interest to an overseas body.

“The prime minister is willing to sell out our birth right and he’s not even willing to give us a voice in a referendum to stop him.”

Tory leader Michael Howard pledged to “renegotiate” the constitution should the Tories win office once it had been agreed.

Leaders at the EU summit set a June 17 deadline for a constitution deal – which leaves just three months to clarify clear rules for running the soon-to-be enlarged 25-member trading bloc.

Mr Blair told reporters: “There is no way and neither is anyone pushing us, to give up British policy on tax or foreign policy or defence or the criminal justice system.

“These things will remain the prerogative of the British Parliament and the British people.

“The idea that people round that (summit) table, many of whom are new members who have fought for years to achieve nationhood, want to give it all away, is dumb.”

Mr Blair then made the case for constitution: “This constitution is good for Europe and for Britain because a Europe of 25 countries will not work as a Europe of 15 did.”