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10th Dec 2022

Pressure mounts for UK referendum on new EU treaty

  • Whatever Mr Blair agrees to in Brussels, Mr Brown will have a hard time defending it in London (Photo: EUobserver)

French leader Nicolas Sarkozy's remark at the G8 summit about a deal with Tony Blair on a new EU treaty has been followed by renewed pressure for a referendum in the UK, with London planning to insist on keeping the veto on foreign, employment and criminal law policies at next week's EU talks.

Speaking to the Sunday Times (10 June), the Conservative leader David Cameron suggested the British public would follow every move by the current UK prime minister and his successor Gordon Brown regarding the revised EU constitution.

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"Any treaty that is about the transfer of powers to the EU must be put to the country in a referendum," he said.

Similar signals came from some Labour MPs, with Frank Field, a former Labour minister, arguing that any back down on a former promise to hold a popular vote on the new EU treaty would be "against all the rhetoric of a government that says it wants to reconnect with a disillusioned electorate."

EU leaders are meeting next Thursday and Friday (21-22 June) in Brussels to agree a new outline of the bloc's constitution - rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 - with leaders keen to prevent further national referendums unless legally required in some member states, such as Denmark.

The renewed pressure on the UK government as it prepares its stance for the summit came after the French president announced last week at the G8 meeting in Germany that "Tony Blair and I have just agreed on what might be the framework for a simplified treaty."

The French leader is planning to come for a short visit to London ahead of the Brussels meeting as part of his energetic travels across European capitals to help prepare the ground for a new EU constitution deal.

Brown worried

According to UK papers, Mr Brown is increasingly worried over the prospects of Mr Blair agreeing to a proposal that would be hard to defend at home, with the Times quoting his ally as saying "We cannot have a deal at any price just because Tony is going. We can only allow through now what will be defensible down the line."

London's key concern is to prevent the Charter of Fundamental Rights having legal force in the UK, if it gets into the revised treaty, due to its possible impact on the future interpretation of labour law.

The UK is also keen to keep the current decision-making structure on foreign policy rather than strengthening EU powers vis-a-vis those of national governments and to keep its national veto on criminal law issues.

According to the Brussels-based weekly European Voice, the German EU presidency is planning to report on the developments surrounding the constitution on 14 June.

Berlin is aiming to present an outline of the whole new treaty for the 21 June summit, with a strict list of items to be discussed in the following Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in late July as well as those to be dropped from the current text.

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