Page last updated at 20:08 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Tories rule out treaty referendum

Mr Hague says it is a 'bad day for democracy'

The Conservatives will not hold a referendum on the EU treaty if they win a general election, shadow foreign secretary William Hague has announced.

Mr Hague said ratification of the treaty by the Czech Republic - the last EU country to do so - meant the Tory campaign for a referendum "ends today".

He said Tory leader David Cameron would set out details of a new policy on Europe on Wednesday.

Mr Cameron has been under pressure to hold a post-ratification referendum.

Eurosceptics in his own party have accused him of reneging on a "cast iron" guarantee made in 2007 to hold a referendum on any treaty that emerged from EU talks if he became prime minister.

Mr Cameron said the treaty passing into European law would "create a new situation" and he would set out his response in a speech at 1600 GMT on Wednesday.

'Passionate belief'

It is believed he could pledge to repatriate some powers from Europe and hold a referendum on any future treaty.

Mr Hague said the Conservatives' hand had been forced by Czech President Vaclav Klaus's decision earlier on Tuesday to sign the treaty, which is now set to come into force across Europe on 1 December.

We need a full referendum on Lisbon as we were promised - no ifs, no buts
Bill Cash, Conservative MP

He told the BBC: "What has happened today means that it is no longer possible to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

"We have campaigned for that referendum for many years, we believe passionately that there should have been a referendum so that the British people could be consulted.

"But now that the treaty is going to become European law and is going to enter into force, that means that a referendum can no longer prevent the creation of the President of the European Council, the loss of British national veto.

"These things will already have happened and a referendum cannot unwind them or prevent them - and that means that our campaign for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty therefore comes to an end today. We think that is a bad day for democracy."

Mr Hague said the Conservatives would "not let people forget whose fault that was," adding: "Gordon Brown and the Labour Party promised people a referendum at the last election and people have never been consulted in a referendum or a general election."

'Not fit'

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: "So much for David Cameron's cast-iron guarantee to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

"But he is still not being honest with people. The fact is you can't simply opt out of treaty obligations because to do so you need the agreement of the 26 other member states.

"David Cameron's position on Europe is false and dangerous. He is willing to risk Britain's standing and the rights of British people because he is still not prepared to stand up to the right of his own party."

Labour insists the Lisbon Treaty is not the same as the defunct constitutional treaty, on which it had promised voters a say.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said earlier that if Mr Cameron could not make his position on Europe clear "he is not fit for government".

'Badly advised'

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said: "Mr Hague says it is 'no longer possible' to have a referendum.

"Well, to me and millions of others it is apparent that it is no longer possible to trust the Tory party or David Cameron when they make promises about Europe."

Eurosceptic Conservative MP Bill Cash said he had written to Mr Cameron urging him to "reconsider" his decision not to hold a referendum, saying the Tory leader had been "badly advised".

Sources say there is likely to be an EU summit next week to discuss who will fill the posts of President of the European Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs, which will be created when the treaty comes into force.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is widely seen as a candidate for president.

Despite his insistence that he is "not available" to take the job, David Miliband is being considered as a possible High Representative - in effect Europe's first foreign minister, sources have told the BBC.

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