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Britain's criminal law 'will be run by Brussels'
By Benedict Brogan, Political Correspondent
(Filed: 12/06/2003)

British criminal law will be taken over gradually by Brussels under clauses in the draft European constitution, Oliver Letwin, the shadow home secretary, claimed last night.

He accused the Government of misleading the public, saying the detail of the document to be debated by EU leaders this month concealed measures that would erode parliamentary sovereignty.

Mr Letwin stepped up Tory calls for a referendum on whether the constitution should be introduced only hours after Tony Blair assured MPs it would do nothing "fundamentally" to alter the British constitution.

The Convention on the Future of Europe, chaired by Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, has drafted a European constitution that is due to be agreed next year. The Government says it would unify the different treaties that form EU law.

The Tories claim that its detail conceals measures for handing over sovereignty on key areas, including defence, tax and law and order.

Mr Letwin said: "The latest draft of the new European constitution gives the EU a wide range of new powers to control criminal law in Britain."

In a speech to the Euro-sceptic Bruges Group, he added: "Under the constitution Britain will not be able to use its veto to stop EU legislation that defines serious crimes and sentences for such crimes.

"Britain will also not be able to veto moves by the EU to expand the area of criminal law over which the Union takes control.

"For too long, the Government and those intent in Brussels on creating a European superstate have expected that people in Britain will not notice the implications of treaty clauses that create the basis for the EU to gradually expand its powers.

"But the game is up."

Mr Blair told MPs: "Foreign and defence policy is going to remain with member governments, it is not going to be transferred to the European Commission.

"So the case that somehow we are about to hand over British foreign policy or defence to the European Union is simply not true."

Last night, Mr Blair held his first full one-to-one meeting with President Chirac since they fell out over the Iraq war.

He sought to bridge deep differences over the European constitution when the French president entertained him to dinner at the Elysee Palace as they tried to seal a rapprochement before the EU summit in Greece next week.

They met alone without translators, a sign that they hoped to make private accords on policy issues.

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