Failure on EU vote 'crippling trust in politics'

FAILING to give voters a referendum on the European Union Treaty ranks alongside the MPs' expenses scandal in destroying trust in politics, Labour has been warned.

Voters were given a clear promise of a referendum on the EU constitutional treaty in Labour's 2005 election manifesto, yet following "no" votes in France and the Netherlands, the Government signed up to the replacement Lisbon agreement without giving the public a say.

The manifesto described the constitutional treaty as "a good treaty for Britain and for the new Europe", before promising: "We will put it to the British people in a referendum and campaign... for a 'yes' vote to keep Britain a leading nation in Europe".

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Yet Ministers denied the people a say, insisting the Lisbon Treaty – which gives the EU Council its first full-time President and gives Europe a high representative for foreign affairs – was a different document – despite numerous people, including the constitution's author Valery Giscard d'Estaing, saying it was virtually the same.

Today marks the second part of a Yorkshire Post series revealing parts of its 2005 manifesto Labour would prefer not to remember. The party has already been accused of flouting promises to keep council tax "under control" and end fuel poverty.

The director of the Open Europe think-tank, Lorraine Mullally, said: "The Labour Government's refusal to give the British people their promised say on the Lisbon Treaty is up there with the Westminster expenses scandal as one of the key reasons people are so angry and disillusioned with British politics.

"The Labour and Liberal Democrat pretence that the treaty was significantly different from the EU Constitution in order to avoid holding the referendum was one of the biggest cons in recent political history, and people are unlikely to forget it in a hurry."

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She also accused Labour of failing to deliver on other European fronts. She said Tony Blair's decision to give away 5bn of the UK's rebate without securing any reform on the Common Agricultural Policy showed Labour had not lived up to a promise to be "leaders in a reformed Europe", while the annual cost of regulation has soared from 16.5bn in 2005 to 28.7bn in 2008 despite promises to "bear down on regulation".

However, she said the Government had kept a promise to try to bring enlargement of the European Union closer, and had supported emissions trading in Europe.

The lack of a referendum is likely to be the major European issue at the election. In 2008, Pudsey was among 10 constituencies where voters were given a referendum by campaigners, and 88 per cent of the 150,000 votes cast nationally called for voters to have a say.

Simon Mountford, who was co-ordinator of the Yorkshire I Want a Referendum campaign, said: "People are naturally angry and frustrated at being prevented from expressing their opinion. Instead, we have been railroaded into a position that the overwhelming majority of the electorate do not want."

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However, Labour is not the only one to have struggled on the referendum issue. David Cameron has angered some of his own party by refusing to hold a referendum now the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified.

And Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg saw frontbenchers resign after they refused to abstain on the issue in the Commons. Fiercely pro-European, he argued the referendum should be on whether the UK stays in the union or not.

A Labour spokesman said: "Our position has always been clear on Lisbon. The idea of a constitution was abandoned, and Lisbon was then proposed as an amending treaty.

"This treaty was for Parliament to ratify – just as Mrs Thatcher and John Major decided Parliament should ratify the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty."

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