Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 18:03 UK

Wheeler 'confident over EU poll'

EU flag
The Conservatives want a referendum on the treaty

Millionaire Stuart Wheeler goes to the High Court on Tuesday to seek a judicial review of the government's refusal to hold an EU referendum.

Mr Wheeler, a Tory donor, said he was confident of winning the case.

He said the legal challenge could delay the ratification of the controversial Lisbon treaty by months.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has ruled out a public vote on the Lisbon treaty as he claims it does not change the UK's constitution.

Mr Wheeler insisted he was "not trying to interfere with Parliament", after the Bill which will ratify the EU treaty, now known as the Lisbon Treaty, cleared its final Commons stages last month.

Our complaint is against the prime minister and the foreign secretary for refusing to hold a referendum, which they could well have done
Stuart Wheeler

But he said he had been told that the treaty could not be ratified while a review was pending.

"Our complaint is against the prime minister and the foreign secretary for refusing to hold a referendum, which they could well have done, without interfering with Parliament in any way at all," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme.

"This is going to be argued at a high level by excellent barristers and I believe we shall get the permission we need."

Last month MPs voted by 346 votes to 206 to approve the EU (Amendment) Bill, after topic-by-topic debates over six weeks.

The Bill, which will now go to the Lords, will ratify the Lisbon Treaty - which was drawn up to replace the EU constitution, after that was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

UKIP challenge

If he is granted permission to apply for a judicial review, Mr Wheeler will claim voters had a "legitimate expectation" that a referendum would be held after one was promised on the EU Constitution.

The government will have 21 days to respond to this before the case comes before a judge.

Judicial reviews can last for more than a year, although Mr Wheeler said he expected the government to respond quickly in order to "expedite" the process.

There has never been a case of anyone successfully challenging a government's manifesto pledge in court.

In a separate case in February, UK Independence Party activist Stuart Bower lost a legal challenge to the government over its refusal to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Ratification

Mr Bower said the treaty was effectively the same as the European Constitution, on which the government promised a public vote at the 2005 general election.

But a Brighton County Court judge said the effect of breaching a manifesto commitment was political, not legal.

All 27 EU countries will have to ratify the treaty before it can come into force.

The treaty contains many of the reforms outlined in the constitution - including changes to voting rights and the creation of a European Commission president - but drops the name "constitution", a reference to EU symbols and an article on the primacy of EU law.


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