Parliament had a bad week. Most of the MPs were there, and we were allowed to work late for a couple of days as there was a huge amount to fit in to the end of the Commons committee stage debates on the EU Constitutional Treaty. However, when it came to the big debate on a referendum on the Treaty, time was too short to allow all those who wanted to make speeches to do so.
During the course of the debates the government and their Lib Dem allies told us that nothing significant was being given away in the new Treaty. They stressed that it will reduce the number of Commissioners and allow member states who want to leave the EU a way to do so. They accepted that 50 vetoes are being given away, but pointed out that some of them only apply to Eurozone members and others are relatively minor. They pointed out that the shape and length of the document is different from the Constitution it replaced.
Those of us who oppose the Treaty have shown line by line that some of those 50 vetoes matter a great deal. This Treaty gives the EU more power to make decisions in criminal justice, foreign affairs and defence, and encourages the Union to play a more prominent role in these areas. It will result in a President of Europe who will want to strut the world stage, and a High Representative in Foreign Affairs who will often be a more important visitor than the British Foreign Secretary and who will wish to corral us into a common policy on the main issues. It removes our veto over energy matters, where the UKâ€™s interests as a substantial oil and gas producer can be very different from those of the consumer nations on the continent. Our famous red lines â€“ which were supposed to protect the UKâ€™s national interests â€“ are not nearly as strong or as good as simply keeping our vetoes. It is true the Constitution has been recast, but as many a senior continental politician has been honest enough to point out, the result is almost identical to the Constitution. All they have done is replaced a document which rewrote all the old Treaties with a document which amends the old Treaties to get them into virtually the same shape as the Constitution!
Clearly our government thinks we were all born yesterday. All they have to do is to examine the results of the ballots, organised in ten marginal seats where the incumbent MP decided to rat on his or her promise to vote for a referendum in Parliament, to see that they have been rumbled. 88% of those voting want a referendum. They have not been persuaded the Treaty is sufficiently different. 89% want to vote against the treaty, because they do not wish to see more power passed to Brussels. I was pleased to be able to cast my vote for the referendum I always said we needed. I was pleased to be vote against the Treaty itself, and pleased to co-sponsor amendments and New Clauses which if passed would have strengthened democratic accountability here in the UK.
My regrets are twofold. It was sad to see Parliamentary debate on many of the important issues prevented by the governmentâ€™s timetabling decisions, and sad to see such an easy victory at the end for those who are now against the very referendum they promised in 2005. These matters now go to the Lords. They doubtless will be given some time to pick up some of the points we were prevented from tackling, as well as having their own vote on a referendum. Neither Labour nor the Conservative Party have a majority in the Lords, so there will be keen interest in how all the other peers are going to go as they will decide the result. Labour peers will, on the whole, be against a referendum and Conservative peers will, on the whole, be for one. The Lib Dem and cross bench peers can decide the matter. I fear they will prove no friends of a democratic vote, but would love to be proved wrong.