UK Conservatives vow to fight back after Lisbon setback

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Britain’s opposition Conservatives pledged on 4 November to seek the return of some powers from the European Union to Britain should they win an election expected next year, but said they were not aiming to sabotage the bloc.

Party leader David Cameron unveiled the party’s new stance on Europe after admitting that Czech President Václav Klaus’s signature of the Lisbon Treaty on Tuesday had sunk his hopes of holding a British referendum on the document. 

The shift has angered some on the Eurosceptic right of Cameron’s party who say he must keep his referendum promise. 

The party will try to negotiate the return of Britain’s opt-out in some areas of EU social and employment law, claw back powers in the criminal justice area and win a “complete opt-out” from the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, Cameron said. 

He said in a speech that he would change British law so that any future transfer of power to Brussels would have to be put to a referendum in Britain. 

The Conservatives, strong favourites to win a national election due by next June, said they would enact a similar “legal lock” to prevent any future government taking Britain into the euro single currency without a referendum. 

“What I am promising today is doable, credible, deliverable,” Cameron said. 

Analysts say Cameron is trying to hang on to the votes of Eurosceptics who might be tempted to back the anti-EU UK Independence Party and deprive the Conservatives of marginal seats. He also wants to avoid antagonising other EU governments whose support he will need in repatriating powers to Britain. 

He said a Conservative government would be an active member of the 27-nation EU. “My purpose […] is not to frustrate or to sabotage the operation of the European Union,” he said. 

No ‘euro bust-up’ 

He would not “rush into some massive Euro bust-up”. 

“We will take our time, negotiate firmly, patiently and respectfully and aim to achieve the return of the powers I have set out over the lifetime of a parliament,” Cameron said. 

A parliament lasts a maximum five years. 

Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Cameron’s proposals were not about taking back powers from Europe, but about transferring power to Eurosceptics in Cameron’s own party. 

Some Conservative Eurosceptics were still not satisfied. “I think we need a referendum on our relationship with Europe,” MP Douglas Carswell told the BBC. 

A Conservative government would pass a law so that any expansion of EU powers would have to be authorised through an act of parliament in Britain, the party said. 

It would also pass a law stating explicitly that Britain’s parliament was sovereign and could not be over-ruled by the EU against its will. This would guard against any attempts by EU judges to erode British sovereignty, the party added. 

Cameron said the Conservatives would want a tough financial settlement in forthcoming negotiations on the EU budget, “ensuring that Britain does not pay more than its fair share”. 

“We will pay particular attention to the area of financial regulation, where we will be vigilant and tenacious in defending the competitiveness of the City of London,” he said. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.) 

Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative leader in the European Parliament said: "David Cameron has put forward a strong policy on Britain's future relationship with the EU that will ensure powers are never again transferred to the EU without the consent of the British people."

"The Conservative Party's position is clear. We will fight for an EU that compliments national governments in dealing with common challenges such as climate change and global poverty but we will not allow the EU to interfere in areas that should be decided in Westminster. We will make the case to other EU countries that they can go ahead with harmonisation of their employment and criminal justice policy if they wish, but the UK wants to retain its independence in these areas," he said.

"I particularly welcome the legislation to ensure the sovereignty of our national parliament. This will be similar to laws in a number of other European countries including Germany," he added.

Conservative leader David Cameron has said he will call a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it is not fully ratified by the time the Tories come to power. The British press says that this could happen by May 2010 (EURACTIV 03/11/09). 

However, Czech President Václav Klaus surprised friends and foes alike by signing his country's Lisbon Treaty ratification on 3 November, just hours after the Czech Constitutional Court had given the text its green light. The EU's reform treaty is now fully ratified and is expected to enter into force on 1 December. 

The Tories' influence influence in the new European Parliament is expected to "decline considerably" as a result of party leader Cameron's decision to pull them out of the European People's Party (EPP) and set up a new group – the European Conservatives and Reformists (EURACTIV 29/06/09). 

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