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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 December 2007, 20:44 GMT
Brown to miss EU treaty ceremony
Gordon Brown
Mr Brown is due to face senior MPs on the day of the signing
Prime Minister Gordon Brown will miss the official signing of the EU treaty, but will travel to Lisbon and sign it later, Downing Street has said.

No 10 says the PM will not be able to attend the ceremony because he is to be grilled by a committee of senior MPs.

But he will leave London straight after the Commons liaison committee hearing and join EU heads of government at lunch and then sign the treaty.

The Tories accused him of "not having the guts" to sign the treaty in public.

The EU Reform treaty has proved politically controversial, with the Tories arguing that it is substantially the same as the abandoned EU Constitution, on which a referendum was promised by Labour.

Constitution rejected

But the government says the two documents are different, making a public vote on the treaty unnecessary.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson
Appearances matter in politics and diplomacy
BBC political editor Nick Robinson

Mr Brown has been invited to Lisbon by the Portuguese government - which holds the EU presidency - along with the leaders of the other 26 EU member states.

The new treaty is planned to replace the failed EU constitution, rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

Once it is signed, the treaty still has to be ratified by the UK and all other member countries before coming into force.

It creates a permanent EU president, a legal personality for the union and a high representative for foreign affairs, while also reducing the number of commissioners to streamline procedures in an enlarged EU of 27 states.

Elements of statehood such as a flag and an official anthem are not in the binding part of the treaty.

'Not significant'

But 16 member states have added their own non-binding declaration that the blue EU flag, the anthem based on the "Ode to Joy" from the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, the motto "United in diversity" and Europe Day on 9 May "will continue as symbols to express the sense of community of the people in the EU".

The Conservatives say there should be a referendum on the treaty before the UK agrees to it.

In a Commons debate on the EU, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "Ministers have neither the courage to fight a referendum nor the courage and honour to keep their own promise of a referendum.

"Once again they are happy to treat the people of this country like fools."

Both Mr Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair, have said the new treaty protects Britain's so-called red line issues on human and social rights, foreign policy and tax and benefits.

This is a ludicrous attempt to avoid being seen signing up to the treaty
Neil O'Brien
I Want A Referendum

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is expected to sign the treaty on the UK's behalf during the official signing ceremony on Thursday.

That happens at the same time as Mr Brown will give evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee - which brings together chairmen of 31 Commons committees - for the first time as prime minister.

The prime minister's spokesman said Mr Brown's lack of presence for the ceremony was "not a particularly significant issue" as previous EU treaties had been signed by foreign secretaries on behalf of the UK.

Mr Miliband told the Commons: "All of the details [of the treaty] will be very, very carefully scrutinised [by Parliament].

"Time will be given for all, for all opinions to be registered and for the detail to be exposed and debated."

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Mark Hunter said the treaty would make the EU "a more effective and efficient" institution, and more accountable.

But he added: "We will be seeking to table an amendment which calls for a referendum to be held, not on the dry technical details of the treaty but on the real issue: whether it's a good idea for the UK to stay in or out.

"In or out, it's time we sorted it out."

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