Lib Dem peers to oppose referendum

LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg has ridden to the Government's rescue by indications his peers will vote with Labour to defeat Tory moves in the House of Lords which would demand a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon.

Graham Dines

LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg has ridden to the Government's rescue by indications his peers will vote with Labour to defeat Tory moves in the House of Lords which would demand a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon.

Lord McNally, leader of the Lib Dem peers, said his party would support ministers in opposing such a poll and without their support, the Tories stand no chance of getting a referendum amendment through unless.

When the Bill was debated in the Commons, Mr Clegg caused chaos in his party for calling on his MPs to abstain from voting on a Tory amendment demanding a referendum. Three front bench spokesmen then resigned.

Lord McNally said at the start of a debate today: “Let there be no doubt that we on these benches want to see this Bill passed and this treaty ratified.

“Our general election commitment to a referendum was on a constitutional treaty. That commitment died with the constitution which was rejected by the French and the Dutch.

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“We have taken the view that the present treaty is an amending treaty which should be carried through by the Parliamentary process.The Conservatives have gone on about a referendum but when my colleagues in the Commons offered an in-or-out referendum, they ran away from that.

“Conservative policy would be that if they could win a referendum, and a majority of voters said 'no' to the treaty, the Conservatives would continue in Europe on the basis of the Maastricht and Nice treaties. The real duplicity is by a Conservative Party that longs to wound and fears to strike. My party is not going to fall into any elephant traps set by them.”

The Lib Dem position brought a stinging rebuke from William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary. In a statement he said: “The Lib Dems' position on Europe is now in total chaos.

“They now a have three way split between rebel MPs who want a referendum, Lords officially voting against a referendum and a leadership lamely abstaining. Nick Clegg's authority over his party now looks very weak indeed. His frontbenchers who honourably resigned because they refused to abstain will now be wondering what the point was. Two U-turns add up to going round in circles.

“Lib Dem MPs should expect voters to hold them to account for their party's decision to actively try to block a referendum.”

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