UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has promised “the fullest Parliamentary debate” over the EU’s new treaty agreed in Lisbon last week but once again ruled out holding a referendum, saying the substance of the new text is different from the defunct EU Constitution.
Brown is set for a bumpy ride in Parliament debates to be organised in the coming months over the ratification of the EU’s new ‘Reform Treaty’.
Both the Conservatives and some MPs within his own camp are raising the pressure to hold the British Premier to account over referendum promises made by the Labour party in a 2005 manifesto.
“We will fight for the referendum in the House of Commons and we will try to make sure he keeps his promise to the British people,” said David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives.
But Brown said the promise does not hold anymore as the manifesto referred to the now buried EU Constitution.
Speaking at a press conference after the EU summit in Lisbon on 19 October, he said: “If this had been…a decision on the old treaty there would have been a referendum.” But he said this is now unnecessary as the new treaty introduces “no fundamental change” to the UK and “because at every point we have safeguarded the British national interest”.
“People will be able to see for themselves in the detailed parliamentary debate,” Brown said.
This argument will however be fiercely resisted by the opposition. “This treaty is almost exactly the same as the Constitution,” said Cameron, who described Brown’s refusal to hold a referendum as “a denial of democracy.”
Portuguese Prime Minister José Socrates, who was hosting the Lisbon summit as the current holder of the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, wished Brown well: “We are counting on you to sell it to the British people,” he was quoted as saying by The Scotsman newspaper.
The text is expected to be ratified in Parliament in April or May next year.