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By any other name


THEY LIKE grand names in Brussels. So when they came up with a plan to give the European Union a proper legal personality (now, there's a thought...it doesn't really exist) and strip national governments of their powers, it only seemed right to give it a grand name. Let's call it a constitution, they said.

So proud were they of their creation that some of them decided to let their own populations vote on the great text. Even Blair said there would be a referendum, regardless of how other countries voted.

But then something went wrong. The French and the Dutch held referendums and said no. And Blair went back on his word to hold a referendum here. No point, he said.

Back to the drawing board, you might think. But then, the European Union does not think like ordinary people do. For Brussels it was back to the make-up pack. They redefined the constitution as a couple of amending treaties, and inserted everything they wanted into them.

Now Blair and Brown (the latter sat in London, negotiating away British sovereignty by conference call) said they wouldn't agree to anything that would require a referendum.

That's the formula they use to say that what they have come up with does not need a referendum...the mere fact that they agreed to it is supposed to prove that no referendum is required.

But look at what came out of Brussels and compare it with the "discarded" constitution. Both establish the EU as a legal entity – no minor hair-splitting change here: it means the EU, rather than its constituent nations, has the right to sign treaties over our heads. Both give it a President and a foreign affairs supremo (no longer called a minister, but with a minister's powers all the same). The voting system has been reformed – qualified majority voting – so that individual countries have even less say over what Brussels does.

Brown's major contribution, it appears, was to halt a French attempt to water down the commitment in the treaty to unfettered competition – in other words, surrendering national control over the economy.

There can be only one response. We must demand a referendum. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett witters on about "parliamentary democracy". That's a poor joke. Democracy, if it means anything, is about rule by the people. Parliament is a machine for ensuring rule over the people, packed with placemen whose pay cheques and promotion prospects depend on toeing the line.

The voice of the British people must be heard. Referendum now!