Click the graphic above to enlarge the screen capture of Tory MPs listening yesterday to the Shadow Foreign Secretary. Earlier David Miliband paid tribute to William Hague: "He has prosecuted his case in an absolutely brilliant fashion and re-established his reputation as one of the outstanding debaters of our times."
Two Labour MPs questioned William Hague on whether the Conservatives would grant a post-ratification referendum:
Denis MacShane MP (Labour): "If I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s logic correctly, he is saying that the treaty that we are debating now is the same as the old constitution, and that a pledge was given to have a referendum on that constitution, which must be honoured. Is he therefore saying that if we pass into law tonight the treaty that he avers is the same as the old constitution, the position of his party will be to have a referendum on that? We need to know; the nation needs to know."
Mr. Hague: "The right hon. Gentleman says that the nation needs to know. I am saying that a referendum should be held on this treaty; that is the clear implication of everything I am saying. As I have frequently explained, quite a lot of water has to pass under the bridge before there will be any possibility of moving on to the question raised by the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I should also have paid tribute for his many interventions in these debates, including the most memorable one, when he said that the Prime Minister had been wrong about the weight of European regulation—which means that we look forward to his interventions from the Back Benches for many years to come; we have all that to look forward to."
Later in the debate:
Geraldine Smith MP (Labour): "Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the
British people have a right to know what his party would do about the
treaty if the Conservatives ever came to government? He will not answer
that question. If the treaty is so bad for Britain—if it is so
bleak—what will he do about it? I happen to think that the right hon.
Gentleman and not their current leader may be the next Tory Prime
Mr. Hague: "I can certainly rule out the last part of the hon. Lady’s
question, which was a most mischievous thing to come up with—she need
never consider that possibility. The answer to the first part of her
question is that people know from the vote on the referendum last week
how the Conservative party approaches the matter: we are the only party
leadership in the House who stayed true to what we stated in our last
election manifesto. At the next general election, we will be true to
what we state in our manifesto then."
Bill Cash and Ed Davey quiz William Hague on whether he supports legislative action to protect the supremacy of the UK Parliament:
Bill Cash: "I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend for fumigating the Government’s speeches on the whole question of the treaty and the referendum. Does he accept the importance of stating, in line with my reasoned amendment, which was not selected, that we will defend and protect this Parliament’s supremacy to ensure that we are not overridden by the European Court of Justice, or by our own courts, and that we have a sound constitutional position for any further renegotiations?"
Mr. Hague: "Given the growth of the EU’s powers, British sovereignty and the ultimate supremacy of Parliament need a constitutional safeguard, but I also say to my hon. Friend that the legal implications of any such provision must be absolutely clear. More work would need to be done in the future on the context and formula by which it is achieved, but I have great sympathy with the constitutional safeguard of ultimate supremacy."
Later in the debate:
Ed Davey MP (Liberal Democrat): "The right hon. Gentleman seems to be extolling a new potential Conservative policy when, in response to the hon. Member for Stone, he talked about a new constitutional safeguard. Does he mean the possibility of using article 49A, which, as he knows, gives member states a right to secede from the Union, or does he have something else in mind—possibly something that he might wish to renegotiate with our colleagues if he were to pull out of this treaty?"
Mr. Hague: "I mean none of those things. Only the Liberal Democrats have gone on about the article that allows a withdrawal from the European Union. It is one of the least likely treaty articles to be employed, which is why our consideration in these debates must be on the many other articles that will be employed. I am simply saying what I said a few moments ago: given the steady growth in the EU’s powers, I can see the case for a constitutional safeguard. I would have thought that many Members across the House would also be able to see that."