25th Sep 2017

British conservatives in disarray over EU treaty

  • Europe is a thorny topic in Britain (Photo: EUobserver)

The question of Europe was once again riding high in British politics last night after a senior member of the opposition Conservatives indicated that the party would not accept parliamentary ratification of the new EU Reform Treaty.

William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, caused a political rumpus on Monday (12 November) by appearing to say that the conservative party - long known for its strongly eurosceptic streak - would press for a referendum on the treaty even if it has been ratified by British MPs.

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"If we don't succeed in forcing a referendum in this House and if we fail to win in another place [the Lords] and if all EU member states implement the treaty and if an election is held later in this Parliament, which is a lot of ifs ... then we would be in a situation where we had a new treaty in force that lacked democratic legitimacy in this country and in our view gave the EU too much power over our national policies."

"This would not be acceptable to a Conservative government and we would not let matters rest there," said Mr Hague, during a foreign policy debate in the House of Commons, according to the Independent.

Mr Hague was then asked if his comments meant that the party would press for a public poll even after the treaty was ratified.

He replied: "It means what it says it means, exactly what I said earlier ... remember that this is a government that promised a referendum. We all promised, all political parties in this House promised a referendum before the ratification of this treaty."

While Mr Hague's comments are likely to be welcomed in some quarters of the party, they drew a rebuke from pro-European conservative Kenneth Clarke.

"I would have thought in the past we have always accepted past treaty obligations by past British governments whenever we have taken office," he said.

Mr Hague's comment have broken open the conservatives uneasy stance on Europe. Under its new leader David Cameron, the party has tried to move away from being defined by its anti-Europe position.

But it retains a core of members and supporters who are strongly in favour of changing Britain's relations with Europe and who believe the Reform Treaty - introducing a long-term president of the EU and a foreign minister - goes too far.

The party has been putting substantial pressure on prime minister Gordon Brown to hold a referendum on the treaty - particularly since the Labour government under Tony Blair had promised a poll on the now-shelved but similar EU constitution.

Mr Brown has so far resisted the calls arguing Britain's interests have been upheld in the Reform treaty but his domestic standing in general has been undermined by his indecision earlier this autumn about whether to call an early election.

If all goes to plan, the EU treaty is to enter into force at the beginning of 2009 - but has to be ratified by all 27 member states first.


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