Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Hague dismisses French 'outburst'

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague says he can live with the criticism

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague has hit back at comments by a French government minister who branded the Tories' new European policy "pathetic".

Mr Hague said Pierre Lellouche's view was not shared around the EU, adding: "We won't be put off by one emotional outburst from one minister."

The Tories have vowed to repatriate powers from Brussels after ditching a pledge for a Lisbon Treaty referendum.

Two Tory Euro MPs have quit their frontbench posts in protest.

Daniel Hannan said he had stepped down as Conservative legal affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, to concentrate on campaigning for a referendum on Europe.

He wrote in his Daily Telegraph blog that he had returned to the backbenches to build a movement that would "push for referendums, citizens' initiatives and the rest of the paraphernalia of direct democracy".

'Abuse'

Conservative MEP Roger Helmer has resigned as the party's employment spokesman in Brussels, telling the ConservativeHome blog: "I can neither justify nor support our new EU policy."

He said Tory leader David Cameron's pledge to hold referendums on future treaties, also announced on Wednesday, was like "installing a largely ineffective burglar alarm when the family silver has already been stolen".

Mr Hague dismissed the resignations, saying support among Tory MPs and Euro MPs for the new policy was "near unanimous".

We will stick up for our national interests, which French ministers never fail to do
William Hague, shadow foreign secretary

"In a large party, you will always get one or two people who disagree but we can live with that," he added.

Mr Hague said he did not think Mr Lellouche's criticisms were shared around Europe and the party would take them "in our stride".

He told BBC Breakfast: "I think more senior members of the French government would take a more careful approach. We take that in our stride.

"Will we get back a bit of abuse for it? Yes, but that won't make a difference."

'Bizarre autism'

The shadow foreign secretary said Mr Lellouche's comments had been inspired, in part, by Britain's EU rebate - and he promised a future Tory government would expect a "bit of abuse" on that as it would be "tougher" than Labour in negotiations.

"We will stick up for our national interests, which French ministers never fail to do, by the way," he added.

Mr Lellouche, who is France's minister for Europe, said the Tories had a "bizarre autism" on the EU and likened their new policy to their withdrawal from the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Another empty statement from David Cameron. He makes the promise for a referendum knowing full well there will never be another treaty
Nigel, Newport

"They are doing what they have done in the European Parliament," he told the Guardian. "They have essentially castrated your UK influence in the European Parliament."

He also insisted there was no chance of European leaders helping the Conservatives re-negotiate powers at this stage.

"It's not going to happen for a minute," he said. "Nobody is going to indulge in rewriting (treaties for) many, many years.

"Nobody is going to play with the institutions again. It's going to be take it or leave it, and they should be honest and say that."

The Lib Dems said the "unseemly row" was a sign of things to come if the Conservatives win the next election.

"This is the kind of petty squabbling we can expect day after day if the Tories get into power," said Ed Davey, its foreign affairs spokesman.

"The French minister's comments illustrate the frustration and dismay felt in European capitals over the Tories' new policy on Europe."

'Euro bust-up'

Sylvie Goulard, a French MEP and president of the French European Movement, agreed with Mr Lellouche by saying she did not think the other member states would go along with the Tory plan.

On Wednesday, David Cameron said it was pointless to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty now that all 27 European Union members have signed the document.

He promised to change the law if he wins the next general election so that any future transfer of power from the UK to Brussels would have to be put to the public in a referendum.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

He also promised a Sovereignty Act if the Tories win power, which he said would assert the supremacy of UK laws, although he stressed it would not mean quibbling with individual pieces of EU legislation.

He vowed to repatriate powers on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, employment and criminal law - which would need the agreement of all 27 EU nations - but again stressed that this was a long-term aim and that he was not seeking a "massive Euro bust-up".

The Lisbon Treaty, which creates the new post of president of the European Council and an EU foreign minister, has now been fully ratified by all member states and will come into force on 1 December.



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