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10th Dec 2022

Brown passes first hurdle in EU treaty debate

  • Discussions on the EU treaty in parliament are expected to run through to March (Photo: Wikipedia)

The UK government on Monday (21 January) passed the first hurdle in what is expected to be a tough few weeks of political battle on the EU treaty when MPs backed a second reading of the European Union bill.

The bill - which ratifies the Lisbon Treaty - was passed by a majority of 138 after five hours of heated debated, according to British media.

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The vote (362-224) means there will now be a further 20 days of discussion on the issue throughout February and March.

Monday also saw an attempt by a group of Labour rebel MPs to vote against their own party thwarted as an amendment calling for a referendum on the treaty was denied by the Speaker of the Commons.

According to the Financial Times, a vote on holding a referendum is likely to be held some time in February when the bill reaches committee stage.

Eighteen Labour MPs had signed up to an amendment calling for a public vote on the treaty.

British newspapers write that while the amendment would have garnered support among most of the Conservative opposition MPs, it was unlikely to have been passed as Liberal Democrats are mainly expected to abstain.

The government's position was defended by foreign secretary David Miliband.

"My case to this House is that this Treaty does not constitute fundamental constitutional change," he said.

He also argued that the "tide of euro-federalism" has turned.

These comments were met with jeers by the Conservatives.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the government was attempting to take the bill "through Parliament without any of the consultation of the people that was promised at the last election, brazenly abrogating the commitment made by every major political party in this House to hold a national referendum in this event."

The Labour government under Tony Blair had said it would hold a referendum on the previous EU constitution, which was eventually rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Two years later, the EU agreed the Lisbon Treaty, containing the main innovations of the constitution.

Mr Brown's government argues that a referendum is not needed as it is sufficiently different from the original constitution.

But this argument has been dealt blows by two parliamentary committees. The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee over the weekend concluded that there was "no material difference" between the treaty and the foreign policy aspects of the constitution.

Meanwhile the Commons European Scrutiny Committee recently said that the treaty and the constitution were "substantially equivalent".

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