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"It is worth remembering that no one in this House has any democratic mandate from the British people to agree to this Treaty. All three main parties stood on manifestos promising the British people a referendum on the EU Constitution. No one’s manifesto said that there would be a referendum on the EU Constitution, but if another country voted ‘no’ in their referendum the British referendum would be scrapped, the Constitution would be given a new name and a few tweaks and the Treaty would be shoved through without the British people being given any say on it at all. Because that is the extraordinary thing ministers are proposing – if they get their way the British people would have absolutely no opportunity to vote on this Treaty, either at the ballot box during a general election or in a referendum.

The whole story of this Treaty has been of this Government’s total failure of leadership, in Europe and in Britain. If ministers are to be believed, they never wanted the Constitution or this Treaty, they were defeated again and again in the negotiations – of the 275 amendments the Government made to the original Constitution text only 27 were accepted – and now they have accepted a Treaty which practically the whole of Europe agrees is only cosmetically different from the Constitution and which this Government dares not put to the British people.

Everyone knows what the Government is up to. No one serious believes that this Treaty is significantly different from the Constitution. Indeed some, like the Constitution’s chief draughtsman Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, can’t stop pointing it out. After the October summit he told European newspapers that ‘the difference … is one of approach, rather than content’. Last month he told the BBC that ‘you wouldn’t be honest to tell the British voters the substance of the text has changed – because the substance has not changed’. He has written with satisfaction in his blog that the Constitution’s ‘nine essential points … reappear word for word in the new project.  Not a comma has changed!’

Everyone knows what is really going on. No impartial commentator thinks that the Government are up to anything other than cynical and calculated manoeuvrings to avoid holding a referendum on a Treaty they know the British people would reject. Ministers have neither the courage to fight an election nor the courage and honour to keep their own promise of a referendum. It is as if they are deliberately setting out to confirm the belief that they are happy to treat the people of this country like fools.

The British people deserve better than this drift. Trust and confidence in this Government are draining away. There remains one notable way for the Prime Minister to repair some of the damage – to honour his promise of a referendum. We will see if he has the courage to admit he was wrong, act like a statesman and give the British people – the people who put us in this place – the chance to have the say we all promised them."

13 comments for: William Hague reaffirms Conservative anger at Brown’s failure to hold a referendum on the EU Treaty

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