Labour rebels press Brown for referendum on EU treaty
Sunday Times: September 2, 2007
GORDON BROWN has come under new pressure from Labour Europhiles to hold a referendum on the European Union treaty as Gisela Stuart, the MP, demanded that it be put to the vote.
Stuart, a former junior minister who sat on the steering group that drew up the rejected constitution, said: “This document, irrespective of what you call it, substantively is still the same as the constitution. This is something which we as Labour MPs went into the 2005 election promising a referendum on. It is a question of trust.”
Last week Keith Vaz, the former minister for Europe, challenged the government’s position by saying there should be a referendum on whether Britain should be in the EU at all. He believes the vote would be overwhelmingly in favour.
Labour rebels claim that MPs have been shocked during the parliamentary recess by the strength of feeling on the matter in their constituencies and fear that dodging the issue could be electorally damaging.
They plan to intensify their campaign ahead of this month’s Trades Union Congress and the Labour party conference.
Gwyneth Dunwoody, a senior backbencher, said: “I think people are fundamentally worried about the treaty. I hope a referendum will be seriously considered because I believe there is strong support for it in the country.”
Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said: “I think a referendum is inevitable now. More and more people are picking up demands from their constituents, it is going to be hard to resist it.”
Ed Balls, secretary of state for schools, was due to rule out a referendum during an interview with GMTV this morning He insisted that the treaty did not amount to a constitutional change in the UK’s relationship with Europe in the way the former constitution did. “I don’t think the British people want some big debate about Europe. They want us to get on with the job and get on with things that really matter,” he added.
However, Kate Hoey, a former sports minister, said: “You couldn’t fit a needle between the treaty and the constitution.
“There is growing momentum for a referendum. The government is going to maintain that it is not going to happen, but I don’t think they can avoid it.”
Last week rebels headed by Ian Davidson, a Labour MP in Glasgow, wrote to Brown, calling on him to make substantial changes to the treaty.
Davidson, who claims to have the support of about 120 Labour MPs, said: “Brown has reexamined a number of areas since he became prime minister and has made changes. “In due course he will look at our relationship with the EU. If he doesn’t, we will press for a referendum.”
Lord Healey, a former chancellor, said this weekend that Brown would win if he held a referendum. “If he has one he will win it because people will vote in favour of him,” he said.
British PM set to break EU referendum pledge
Green Left Weekly: 31 August 2007
Prime Minister Gordon Brown looks set to break Labour’s 2005 election manifesto pledge to hold a referendum before Britain signs up to a new European Union constitution. At an August 22 press conference with German leader Angela Merkel, Brown announced that there was no need to hold a referendum and that the matter would instead be decided by parliament.
Brown is claiming that there is no need for a referendum because the document his government is planning to sign up to is not a constitution, but rather a “reform treaty”. However, leading trade unionists believe that the changes are insignificant and in some cases merely verbal. The August 25 Morning Star quoted Bob Crow, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, as saying, “Whatever you call the EU treaty, it contains the same anti-democratic mix that was in the constitution killed off by French and Dutch votes in 2005”.
Glasgow South Labour MP Ian Davidson agreed with Crow’s assessment: “The changes include items such as the title of the document, taking out things about the flag, anthem and a Europe day, calling the foreign minister something else, but other than that it’s essentially the same.”
Dave Prentis, leader of UNISON (Britain’s largest public service union), told the Star that unions throughout Europe “have fought tooth and nail to protect their own public services against repeated attempts by European leaders and officials to sell out to foreign business”. With right-wing governments in power like Merkel’s and Nicolas Sarkozy’s in France, the backdoor constitution threatened to become “a borderless blueprint for privatisation”. According to a spokesperson for the transport and general (T&G) section of the Unite union quoted in the paper, the treaty “would serve to undermine workers’ rights rather than strengthen them”.
In the August 21 Morning Star, Steve McGiffen, editor of Spectrezine.org, spelled out some of the parts of the constitution that remain essentially unchanged in the reform treaty:
•The creation of the post of president of the European Council;
•The creation of a new office of “high representative of foreign affairs”;
•The introduction of double majority voting at council, meaning that from 2014 only “50 percent of the states representing 55 percent of the population will have to approve a proposal”;
•The abolition of the current national veto over a number of policies;
•The assignment of “legal personality” to the EU, meaning that it will have the legal power to sign international treaties and agreements on behalf of all EU member states;
•A clause explicitly giving priority to EU law over national law.
McGiffen also claimed that the treaty would deepen all of the neoliberal economic provisions in the former constitution.
Brown’s plan to sign up to the treaty is likely to lead to dissent at the Trades Union Congress conference in September. The Morning Star pointed out that a motion from the RMT calling on the TUC to launch a “No” campaign has already won support from UNISON and the T&G section of Unite.
There has also been some muted dissent from within the ranks of Labour MPs. A letter sent by Labour MP Ian Davidson to Brown on August 26 suggested a number of changes to the proposed treaty that “may remove the need for a referendum”. Although the August 29 edition of the Star claimed that Brown has been “rattled” by dissent from Labour MPs over the issue, it seems unlikely that this will lead to any significant pressure being placed on the PM.
Brown’s move to break Labour’s manifesto commitment to a referendum could lead to the end of the honeymoon period he has been enjoying in the opinion polls since he replaced Tony Blair in June. According to the Morning Star, an ICM poll revealed that “around 82 percent of all voters want the opportunity to vote on the treaty”.