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Brown to inherit Blair's surrender to Brussels

London Telegraph | May 06, 2007 
Patrick Hennessy

Tony Blair intends to use his remaining weeks in office to surrender British powers to Brussels as part of his drive for a European "legacy", senior Whitehall officials claim.

Leading civil servants fear the Prime Minister will effectively bind the hands of Gordon Brown by signing Britain up to a rewritten version of the European Union constitution days before he finally resigns at the end of June.

Mr Blair's plan to forge closer links with France and Germany - something he has wanted to do since coming to power in 1997 - are causing consternation in Whitehall and the Chancellor's camp.

The move puts at risk Labour's hopes of a "stable and orderly transition" of power, a process which will begin this week when Mr Blair spells out his departure plans.

If Mr Brown wanted to undo any or all of Mr Blair's moves to sign away powers, he would be locked into a series of bruising and time-consuming negotiations that could dominate his tenure at No 10.

A senior civil servant told The Sunday Telegraph: "The concern is that the outgoing Prime Minister will take constitutional decisions which will bind both his successor and the country for years without obtaining the say-so of his successor, and possibly without even consulting him.

"There is a worry he believes this should be part of his political legacy and that he will be acting as an individual and not the leader of a government."

Mr Blair will announce this week that he will remain as Prime Minister for about seven weeks, allowing Labour time to elect his successor and hold a separate poll for deputy leader.

Mr Brown is a virtual certainty to succeed Mr Blair. Today, John Reid, the Home Secretary, and John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who were touted as potential leadership candidates, will formally declare they will not stand against the Chancellor.

Mr Brown will now face only a token challenge from a Left-winger, either Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, or John McDonnell.

Mr Blair's announcement will effectively usher in a US-style transition period before the Chancellor takes over. Prime Minister in all but name, Mr Brown will stage regular meetings with leading "front-line professionals" including military top brass, security chiefs, police leaders, health bosses and senior education officials.

He will also make a series of wide-ranging speeches and hold "Let's talk" gatherings with Labour Party members and ordinary voters.

But Whitehall officials are concerned about Mr Blair's desire to stay on and attend two major summits in June, a G8 meeting of world leaders and a European Council in Brussels.

The latter will see Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, put forward a new set of proposals for a Brussels power-grab which would not need to be endorsed by referendums in member states.

Two years ago, a formal EU constitution, signed by all member states, was scrapped after "No" votes in referendums in France and Germany.

Civil servants fear Mr Blair will sign up to moves extending the 48-hour maximum working week to more people, which business believes could cost £9 billion, and plans to give European judges greater say over Britain's criminal law.

The proposals would also lead to a permanent and powerful EU president and a "foreign minister" with a seat on the UN Security Council.

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