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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 09:10 GMT
Commons EU battle will continue
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Labour rebels are calling for a referendum on the treaty
The controversial EU reform treaty has cleared its first Commons hurdle.

Starting at least 15 days of debate over the next month, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the treaty was "good for Britain and good for Europe".

He came under fire from some Labour backbenchers, and the Tories said the government was "brazenly abrogating" its promise to hold a referendum.

At the end of a rowdy five-hour debate a motion to approve the bill in principle won by 362 votes to 224.

But the European Union (Amendment) Bill will be debated line-by-line over the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown signed the Lisbon Treaty in December but Parliament must ratify it.

It was designed to replace the EU Constitution, which was abandoned in 2005, but on which Labour had promised a referendum - the government says a referendum is not needed for the new treaty.

We believe this treaty is good for Britain and good for Europe
David Miliband
Foreign secretary

But 18 Labour and four nationalist MPs had signed an amendment calling for a referendum on the document, that was not subject to a vote on Monday as the Commons speaker decided against calling it.

Opening the debate earlier, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the Lisbon Treaty was "fundamentally different" from the failed constitution.

Super state 'myth'

"The government is convinced that Britain's membership of and full engagement with the EU is good for Britain and good for Europe," he told MPs.

"We believe this treaty is good for Britain and good for Europe."

He warned against the Conservative "myth" of a European super state and said the party's policies would lead to "a second decade of institutional inertia that diverts Europe from the real issues that face it".

An EU of 27 member states and growing can't operate on the same basis that only just served the needs of an EU of 15 states
Edward Davey
Lib Dems

But shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the treaty "brings about fundamental change" in the EU's institutional structure, changes which the government "now pretend are matters of little importance about which the people of this country need not be troubled."

Labour MPs Frank Field, Gwyneth Dunwoody and Gisela Stuart were among those who stood up to question whether the treaty was fundamentally different from the constitution.

'Goebbels' rant'

But for the Liberal Democrats Edward Davey said: "An EU of 27 member states and growing can't operate on the same basis that only just served the needs of an EU of 15 states.

"Arguments for trimming the bureaucracy and making the institutions less cumbersome ought to be self-evident."

Mr Brown signed the treaty flanked by Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, Jose Socrates and Hans-Gert Pottering
Mr Brown signed the treaty hours after the official ceremony in December

During the lively debate, Tory MP Andrew Robathan was told to retract comments that the foreign secretary's speech was "a rant of propaganda that would be worthy of Goebbels" - Mr Miliband said the comments were "not worthy" of him.

The Tories and some Labour MPs are opposing the bill, but the Lib Dems, who support a referendum on the wider issue of Britain's EU membership, will vote in favour of it.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We would vote against a referendum on the treaty and vote in accordance with our long-held position that the real referendum which needs to be had is whether we stay in the European Union or not."

Ministers argue that no referendum is needed as the treaty merely amends the EU's existing constitution, rather than overwriting it - as the failed constitution would have done.

Europe Minister Jim Murphy has dismissed claims that up to 100 Labour MPs are unhappy with the refusal to hold a public vote.

On Sunday the Commons foreign affairs committee said parts of the Lisbon Treaty were no different from the abandoned EU Constitution, and accused the government of publicly downplaying the importance of some new EU institutions and roles.



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MPs level criticism at the Lisbon Treaty



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