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Britain could become 'prisoner' of the EU
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
(Filed: 02/04/2003)

A tough secession clause in the new European constitution would make it illegal for Britain to leave the European Union without permission.

Article 46 of the secret draft text, obtained by The Telegraph, says the terms of departure for any country wanting to leave must be approved by two thirds of member states.

The draft is to be presented this week to the 105-strong Convention on the Future of Europe by the praesidium, headed by the former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing. It is releasing the Europe's first constitution piece by piece over the next few months.

The text - still subject to last-minute changes today - would allow a minority bloc of states to impose conditions, offering no guarantee that a departing country could keep its trading rights or reclaim currency reserves held by the European Central Bank.

David Heathcoat-Amory, a Tory MP on the convention, called the text outrageous. "It's a prison clause, not a secession clause," he said.

"We thought we could repeal the 1972 European Communities Act if the worst came to the worst, but this shows we're no longer talking about a voluntary union you can leave whenever you want.

"It is the final extinction of parliamentary sovereignty."

Mr Heathcoat-Amory said the two European commissioners on the praesidium, France's Michel Barnier and Portugal's Antonio Vitorino, had pushed through a highly integrationist text.

28 February 2003: 1,000 changes sought in EU constitution
7 February 2003: Brussels elite accused over 'federalist coup'
7 December 2002: Britain facing the crunch on European integration

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