UK Bill to enable vote on EU treaty changes


LEGISLATION TO go before the House of Commons tomorrow will give the British public legally backed powers to force a referendum on European Union treaty changes, British foreign secretary William Hague said.

Under the legislation, the removal of any of the vetoes held by the UK could not be conceded in talks in Brussels while changes to existing treaties would also have to go before the voters.

British ministers would have freedom to agree to minor changes, but “any British citizen will be able to go to court to enforce the electorate’s rights and ensure that ministers cannot wriggle out of a referendum on anything substantial”, he said.

The debate is likely to be marked by signs of rebellion from Conservative MPs who have become increasingly concerned about the relationship between the Conservative leadership and Liberal Democrat cabinet colleagues.

The proposals to create a “referendum lock” were first advanced by prime minister David Cameron before he entered Downing Street, when he finally accepted that a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty could not be held.

However, the “sheer undemocratic arrogance” shown then by the Labour Party, when it “rammed into law” a treaty “of huge significance” meant that this could never be allowed to happen again, Mr Hague wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

A number of leading Conservative MPs, including Douglas Carswell, have already ridiculed the EU Bill, saying it is “smoke and mirrors” that will do little to stop further concessions being made to Brussels.

“We have left it to such politicians and diplomats for too long. Only a referendum will now do. All else is window dressing. In his article, William makes much of what Labour failed to do in office,” Mr Carswell wrote. “But it is no longer a question of what did or did not happen under Brown and Blair. It is a question of what we, now in office are going to do . . . It’s hardly as if we’re against holding referendums on issues that divide the coalition, is it?”

The tenor of the debate will be closely watched by Conservative whips amid increasing signals that the right wing of the party is ready to become more vocal in its criticism of the government in coming months.

So far the rebellions have been limited and controllable. Just five MPs, including Mr Carswell, have voted against the government on EU issues since May, though 40 more have done so on other subjects.

Shadow foreign secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Even the foreign secretary must know this Bill is a dog’s dinner. This Bill is about failed Tory party management, not the issues that matter for Britain in Europe.Instead of concentrating on things like growth . . . William Hague is wasting time trying and failing to keep his Eurosceptics happy.” (Additional reporting: PA)