British Conservative rebellion on Europe defeated
Britain's coalition government has seen off a rebellion led by eurosceptic Conservative lawmakers who attempted to toughen up proposed laws that could trigger a referendum on EU treaty changes.
The attempt to bolster part of the European Union Bill was voted down late Tuesday, but almost 30 lawmakers from Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives backed the rebellion, a reminder of tension in the party on Europe.
The Conservatives currently share power with the smaller Liberal Democrats. But divisions in the party over Europe have played a major role in the downfall of their last two prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
Veteran eurosceptic Conservative Bill Cash led opposition to the bill on Tuesday, tabling an amendment to bolster the planned law amid fears among rebels it would not necessarily protect against a loss of power to Brussels.
Ministers insist the proposed EU bill gives enough protection as it demands a referendum before significant powers are handed to Europe.
The referendum pledge was a key part of the Conservatives' manifesto and was seen by some as a way to keep onside the eurosceptic right wing of the party.
Cash's amendment was defeated, with the government winning the vote by 275 votes. However, 39 lawmakers defied the government and supported the amendment, including 27 Conservative lawmakers.
The bill still has to clear several parliamentary hurdles before being adopted. The debate on the issue Tuesday took place in the House of Commons, during what is known as the committee state.
The debate centred on a "sovereignty clause", which confirms the principle that the London parliament has the final say on EU laws which take effect in Britain.
Cash said he wanted to bolster this clause and create a firewall against any attempt by the judiciary to interfere with "the sovereignty of this house."
"It is time that we turned the tide and made it clear exactly where we stand," he said.
"For too long we have witnessed further seamless and ceaseless integration and it is time we took a stand -- removing ambiguity and uncertainty and the gradual absorption of the EU into our constitutional DNA."
But David Lidington, the Europe minister, insisted the law would be watertight.
"Any future change to EU treaties, however minor, will be subject to a full act of parliament," he told BBC radio.
"Any extension of EU competencies, (such as) a decision like joining the euro, would have by law to go with a referendum. There would be no wriggle-room for the government."
The bill would enable ministers to avoid a referendum if they judged that the transfer of power was not significant.
© 2011 AFP