Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 17:10 UK

Tories on fringes of EU - Brown

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The Tories say they have formed an "anti-federalist" bloc

Gordon Brown has accused the Conservatives of being "on the fringes" of Europe as he and David Cameron clashed over EU policy in the Commons.

The Tories' decision to form a new grouping in the European Parliament had left them "isolated" and unable to influence key economic decisions.

But Mr Cameron said the UK now had the largest budget deficit and youth unemployment of any EU country.

And he attacked Mr Brown over the lack of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

The Tories say their decision to realign themselves with a new group of MEPs from eastern and central Europe in Brussels, breaking away from the established European People's Party, is "good for European democracy".

'Detached'

But Mr Brown, in a Commons statement on Friday's EU summit, said the move meant they were detached from the mainstream centre-right governments across Europe.

As a result, they could not influence vital decisions as countries worked together to fight the recession.

In contrast, Mr Brown said the UK was co-operating with other governments across Europe on further measures to support jobs and growth as well as plans for cross-border supervision of financial markets.

The two leaders also clashed over the Lisbon Treaty, with Mr Cameron saying the UK was being denied a referendum when Ireland was getting the chance to vote twice.

EU leaders are hoping Ireland - the only country not to have ratified it so far - will back the treaty this autumn having rejected it first time around.

At Friday's meeting, Ireland won assurances that a yes vote in a future referendum would not override its national policies on taxation and abortion, in a series of so-called treaty "protocols".

'Self-defeating'

Mr Brown insisted these guarantees were "specific to Ireland" and would not affect the relationship between other member states and the EU.

But Mr Cameron said a debate on the protocols and their consequences was needed if the PM's recent promises of greater "openness" in government were to be believed.

If elected, the Tories have pledged to hold a referendum on the treaty if it has not been ratified by all member states.

They have also insisted they will not let "matters rest" even if the treaty has been fully ratified, prompting speculation they might seek to revisit some elements.

For the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg urged ratification of the treaty by all members to allow the EU to focus its energies on key challenges such as tackling climate change and crime.

And he said threats to revisit the treaty after its ratification would be "self-indulgent" and "self-defeating".



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