17th Sep 2021

Brown faces backbench revolt over EU treaty

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is facing a significant backbench revolt as the bill ratifying the EU's Lisbon Treaty begins its House of Commons second reading today (21 January).

At this legislative stage - the first parliamentary vote on the treaty - it is unlikely that the bill will be voted down.

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While most Conservatives are set to vote with the Labour rebels, the leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, although supporting a referendum on the treaty, has said his party will abstain.

Nonetheless, the leader of the Labour rebels, Ian Davidson, warned that opposition is expected to grow as the bill progresses through parliament.

In Westminster, a 'second reading' is the stage of the legislative process where a vote is taken on the general principle of a bill before it is sent to committee. The government has set aside a full 20 days of parliamentary time to consider the bill in some detail, hoping this will expose differences amongst the opposition Conservatives over the issue of Europe.

The eurosceptic Mr Davidson said that frustration has grown within the governing Labour Party since it became clear that former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who negotiated the treaty shortly before leaving office, has ambitions to be appointed EU president, a new post created by the treaty.

The vote may also feature an amendment, backed by 18 of the rebels, calling for a referendum.

The development comes a day after the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee issued its opinion on the matter, concluding that the was "no material difference" between the EU treaty and foreign policy elements of the original EU constitution.

The EU constitution was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 prompting a rethink by the European Union eventually resulting in the Lisbon Treaty, which contains most of the constitution's elements.

The Labour government under Mr Blair had indicated it would have a referendum on constitution but Mr Brown has said there is no need for public poll on the new treaty as Britain's ‘red lines' have been defended.


Meanwhile, the UK government's Europe minister, Jim Murphy, is facing an extra-parliamentary 'mini-referendum' in his own East Renfrewshire constituency organised by the cross-party eurosceptic group I Want A Referendum (IWR).

The group is set to hold the poll, which will cost IWR £30,000 (c. €40,000) to stage, some time in February.

It has commissioned Electoral Reform Services to run referenda in East Renfrewshire and nine other UK marginal constituencies as part of a rolling campaign aiming to embarrass the government into holding a full nationwide referendum on the treaty.

Labour MP Gisela Stuart said: "We made a very clear promise of a referendum at the last election. No one really believes for a second that this is a 'fundamentally different document'. We must keep our promise.

"These referenda will give people the chance to have the vote that the Government is trying to take away from them. Gordon Brown must listen."

In February, voters in the constituency will receive a pack containing an information leaflet with contributions from both sides of the debate, a ballot paper, and a envelope with prepaid postage.

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