The “nauseating volte-face” over Europe

Despite the fact that 638 out of 646 MPs were elected on the basis of a manifesto commitment to a referendum on Europe, both Labour and the Lib Dems now look prepared to ratify the far-reaching Lisbon Reform Treaty without one.

On Monday night, Gordon Brown cleared the first hurdle in the ratification of the Lisbon Reform Treaty when MPs backed a second reading of the EU (Amendment) Bill by 362 votes to 224, a majority of 138.

For the Treaty to be ratified, Parliament has to say yes or no to the treaty as a whole, says William Rees-Mogg in The Times. However, it could impose conditions that might affect or defer the operation of a treaty, or demand a referendum as a condition of the ratification process.

The Prime Minister, who is on the last leg of his tour of the Far East, was accused by opposition parties of running scared. William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said it was extraordinary that Brown had deliberately absented himself from the biggest Commons clash on Europe since the passage of the Maastricht Treaty in the early 1990s.

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"Supporters of the Constitution, now called the Lisbon Treaty, are starting to feel smug," says The Daily Telegraph. Despite the fact that 638 out of 646 MPs were elected on the basis of a manifesto commitment to a referendum, two of the three main parties have since "performed a nauseating volte-face". The Lib Dems have suddenly started making "pompous declarations" about Parliament being the proper place to consider such measures.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband is arguing that the text of the new treaty is very different to the rejected one and has "startled" some MPs by "strongly suggesting" that he never agreed with Tony Blair's decision to offer a referendum in 2004, says Patrick Wintour in The Guardian.

The idea that the Lisbon Treaty is different from the rejected 2005 constitution is laughable, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. Its architect, the former French president Valry Giscard d'Estaing, says it's the same in all but name, as does the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Miliband should abandon his "absurd denial". As for the pledge of a referendum, given the "brutal mugging" to which it has been subjected, it is "probably best remitted to the private confess­ional".

The debate should now centre on the Treaty itself: if voters resent anything, it is not that they may be cheated of a promised referendum, but that no attempt is being made to persuade them of the merits of the Treaty, as would have happened in a referendum.

The legislative process, which will last for another month, has been designed in part to give the "almost wholly anti-European Conservative party as much rope as possible with which to hang themselves", says The Guardian. But the Government should bring to the debate a "higher purpose" and aim to inspire voters with some confidence in the EU. After all, if Britain is to "retain a seat at the top table where this century's big international decisions are made", then we need to retain our place in Europe.

How can more European interference in many of our already diminished sovereign rights be a good thing? asks Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph. What is the point of electing governments if there are vital policies that they cannot alter? Look at Sarkozy: he is "doing his nut" because of what he regards as the overvaluation of the euro and the effect it is having on his country's industries, but short of restoring the franc, there is nothing he can do. We are not in the single currency, but the consequences of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty are much more far-reaching.

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.