EU Referendum calls are absurd, says minister
London Telegraph | July 24, 2007
Toby Helm and Bruno Waterfield
Gordon Brown was shaping up for a bitter and prolonged battle over Europe with the Conservatives last night after his Europe minister described calls for a referendum on the new European Union treaty as "frankly absurd".
The comments by Jim Murphy, during a debate in the House of Commons, came ahead of a speech today by William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, in which he will say a national vote is essential because the treaty would transfer powers from Westminster to Brussels "in spades".
Mr Murphy also appeared to rule out any attempt to renegotiate the wording of the draft EU Treaty.
The Tories and some Labour MPs want ministers to change aspects of the draft treaty, including a section which they say would make national parliaments subservient to Brussels.
But Mr Murphy told MPs he had no intention of seeking any amendments. Responding to the eurosceptic Tory MP Bill Cash, who said there must be a referendum on a document that would create an EU president and foreign minister, Mr Murphy quoted the Europhile former Tory Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, as saying to ask the people to vote on such a document would be "frankly absurd".
Mr Murphy said he could not think of a better way to answer Mr Cash than to repeat Mr Clarke's assessment.
In a sign that the Tories - who have been reluctant to reignite arguments over the EU since David Cameron became leader - are now willing to put the issue at centre stage again, Mr Hague will tell the Policy Exchange think-tank that the treaty will "fundamentally change the European Union and Britain's place in it".
He will argue that it is the same in all but name as the Constitutional Treaty on which Labour promised a referendum in its 2005 election manifesto. That treaty was killed in referendums in France and Holland.
Mr Hague will say that politicians across Europe have confirmed that the new document is essentially the same as the old.
"With power transferred from Britain to Brussels in spades and the EU fundamentally changed, there is no question but that the constitution by another name merits a referendum," he will say. "After the constitution was rejected the first time around, the then foreign secretary … set out a simple test for any new treaty.
"If the new treaty had the president and the foreign minister, then, Jack Straw said, it would in essence be the constitution.
"The new treaty has the president and foreign minister. It is in essence the constitution. The remaining question is where the promised referendum is."
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, last night repeated the Government's refusal to hold a referendum on the new treaty. Mr Miliband, attending his first meeting of EU foreign ministers since his appointment, said: "The concept of a constitution has been abandoned. That is made clear in the new treaty. In that context we don't think there needs to be a constitutional referendum."
He went on: "The important question is whether it is a good treaty for Europe and for Britain or not? I think it is a good treaty for Europe and for Britain because it takes forward institutional reform in a sensible way and undermines the arguments of those saying that there is a superstate around the corner.
"It is evident that that is not the case."
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