Page last updated at 22:10 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Cameron's 'never again' vow on EU

David Cameron: "We will give the British people a referendum lock"

David Cameron has said "never again" to powers being transferred from the UK to Brussels without a referendum.

He said all future treaties would be put to a public vote as he outlined his new European policy after ruling out a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

He also promised a sovereignty bill if the Tories win the next election to "lock in" the supremacy of UK laws.

And the Tory leader vowed to repatriate powers on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, employment and criminal law.

Mr Cameron unveiled the new set of policies after abandoning a pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which is now to come into force on 1 December.

Concoct pretext

He has been accused of backtracking on a "cast iron" pledge to hold a referendum if he becomes prime minister, but he said: "I did not promise a referendum come what may, because once the Lisbon Treaty becomes law there is nothing people can do about it."

We will give the British people a referendum lock to which only they should hold the key
David Cameron, Conservative Party leader

He added: "I recognise there are some who, now that we cannot have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, want a referendum on something else... anything else.

"But I just don't think it's right to concoct some new pretext for a referendum simply to have one for the sake of it."

But a Conservative government would amend the European Communities Act 1972 to prohibit the transfer of power to the EU without a referendum.

That would cover any future attempt to take Britain into the European single currency, said Mr Cameron.

"We will give the British people a referendum lock to which only they should hold the key, a commitment very similar to that which exists in Ireland," he added.

'Massive Euro bust-up'

Such a move, together with the repatriation of some powers, was "credible, doable and deliverable" and would prevent the "drift" towards a federal Europe, he argued.

Mr Cameron said the phrase "never again" would feature in the party's general election campaign and manifesto.

British people now know what to expect when they hear a cast-iron guarantee from David Cameron on Europe: nothing
David Miliband, foreign secretary

The sovereignty bill would act in place of a written constitution, which Britain does not have, to prevent the "drift" of EU powers into new areas and ensure the "final word on our laws is here in Britain", explained Mr Cameron.

He said he would need the agreement of all 27 EU nations to get powers back on employment law, including the working time directive, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and criminal justice.

Status quo

But he reassured other EU nations that he was not seeking a "massive Euro bust-up", stressing the situation was "complex" and would take the lifetime of a Parliament to solve.

Mr Cameron is seeking to head off a civil war in his party over Europe - and shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the proposals received "very strong support" when they were put to Tory MPs earlier.

But some Tory MPs are likely to continue demanding the public have a say on Europe.

Backbencher Douglas Carswell told the BBC News Channel: "I think we need a referendum on our relationship with Europe."

It is madness to re-open long and drawn out discussions which would inevitably result in a bust-up with Europe
Ed Davey, Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman

And he criticised Mr Cameron's proposals to ensure British law had primacy over EU law: "I fear that a sovereignty bill may merely institutionalise the status quo. It's the status quo that I've got a problem with."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: "British people now know what to expect when they hear a cast-iron guarantee from David Cameron on Europe: nothing.

"This is not about taking back powers from Europe; it is about transferring power to the Eurosceptics on his backbenches."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey, whose party campaigns for an "in or out" referendum from a pro-EU standpoint, said: "Cameron's confused middle way will satisfy no one.

"It combines pointless gimmicks with dangerous proposals which would mire Britain in an endless round of negotiations."

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for Britain's exit from the EU, accused Mr Cameron of attempting to deceive the public on Europe.

"The true state of affairs is that we are signed up to a higher, European legal order. Renegotiation is not credible or doable. This is all too little too late," he said.

The Guardian newspaper reports France's Europe minister, Pierre Lellouche, as calling the Conservatives' EU plans "pathetic".

There is a danger that the UK could be "castrated" in Europe, he adds.

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