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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 18:00 GMT
EU referendum demands dismissed
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MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to hold a referendum
The government has again dismissed calls for an EU treaty referendum, two days ahead of a crunch Commons vote.

Europe Minister Jim Murphy told MPs it was up to Parliament to decide "the right thing" to do.

But Gisela Stuart called for a free vote for Labour MPs while Tory MP Mark Francois said there had not been enough time to debate issues such as defence.

MPs will vote on Wednesday on a Tory amendment to the EU Amendment bill calling for a referendum on the treaty.

The Conservatives say the treaty is essentially the same document as the failed EU Constitution, on which all three of the main parties promised a referendum in their 2005 manifesto.

Constitution 'abandoned'

The government says it is very different and does not require a referendum, as it only amends the EU's existing constitution, rather than overwriting it.

On the ninth day of debate on the bill, Mr Murphy said every government in the EU had agreed that the "constitutional approach" had been abandoned.

This chamber will decide later this week whether it's the right thing to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty or not
Jim Murphy
Europe minister

Referring to two men who had earlier scaled a crane near Parliament to demand a referendum, Mr Murphy said: "The place to make these decisions is in this chamber - not on a crane half way above the city sky of London.

"This chamber will decide later this week whether it's the right thing to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty or not."

His own East Renfrewshire constituency was among those targeted by I Want A Referendum campaigners at the weekend, who say their unofficial ballots on the issue showed 88% of the public wanted a say.

'Misguided' approach

But Mr Murphy dismissed the findings, adding: "In my own constituency there were more people who voted for the failed Conservative candidate in the last election, than voted in the process we have just been through."

Monday's Commons debate was the latest in a series of topic-by-topic debates on the bill that would ratify the new treaty, already signed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

We have not had detailed parliamentary scrutiny. The government really don't deserve to get away with this
Mark Francois
Conservatives

But the government's handling of the bill was criticised by MPs from all parties.

The Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey called for at least an extra day for debate and said the government's approach was damaging to the pro-European position.

He added: "I don't think it helps the government's case and that's why they are misguided."

'Brutal manner'

And Labour backbencher Gwyneth Dunwoody said the legislation was being "guillotined" and "cut short in the most brutal and unhelpful manner".

Conservative Mark Pritchard said it was a "failure of democracy" when people had to take "direct action only a few hundred yards from Parliament because the government has reneged on its promises on the EU reform treaty".

And shadow Europe minister Mark Francois condemned the timetable for the remaining parts of the Bill, demanding extra time to debate the implications for defence.

He said: "We have not had detailed parliamentary scrutiny. The government really don't deserve to get away with this.

"On Wednesday, Members of this House will have a vital opportunity to prevent them from doing so."

Ms Stuart's calls for a free vote for Labour MPs were met with the response that it was "beyond the scope of business" before MPs as they debated the remaining timetable for the legislation.



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