Gordon Brown faced repeated accusations of betrayal yesterday as he began his fightback over his decision to approve the European Union treaty in Lisbon without a new national referendum.
In a statement on the Lisbon summit to the Commons, the Prime Minister said Parliament will have a right of veto over any move from majority voting to qualified majority voting in the European council. The move was presented by Mr Brown as an important concession to MPs, who will now have the power to direct the Government's future negotiations.
However, the promise of further Commons votes failed to defuse the row which threatens to overshadow the Government for the next 12 months.
Amid rowdy scenes in the Commons, David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said he would be seeking a coalition to force the Prime Minister to concede a referendum by mobilising public opinion.
"He promised to honour his manifesto but he is breaking one of the most important manifesto commitments of all," said Mr Cameron. "He's now betraying people's trust. He has absolutely no democratic mandate to sign this treaty without a referendum.
"If he breaks his trust with the British people, they will rightly say, 'How can we ever trust anything he says ever again?' "
Mr Brown insisted that the treaty was not the same as the constitution on which Labour had promised a referendum in the 2005 manifesto. But Conservative strategists said they intend to turn the campaign for a referendum into an issue of trust in the Prime Minister. "We've seen the Government say no, then concede a referendum in the past. They could do it again," said a Cameron aide.
Mr Brown said the treaty, to be formally signed at a further summit in Lisbon in December, preserved the "red lines" by avoiding Britain being committed on policy agreed by the other members of the EU on the charter of fundamental rights, criminal law and security, justice and home affairs, and on foreign policy. He also rejected claims that the red lines would disappear in five years.
Bill Cash, the leading Tory euro-sceptic in the Commons, angrily accused Mr Brown of "deceit" over the negotiation of the Treaty. He was backed by Labour critic, Kate Hoey, a former sports minister, who said the Major government had never promised a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, "whereas my Government did".
A group of more than 20 Labour MPs are expected to join the Tories in voting for a referendum when the bill to implement the Lisbon treaty goes through the Commons in the New Year. But Mr Brown brushed aside demands for a free vote on the issue and refused to guarantee that it would not be guillotined.
The Government chief whip, Geoff Hoon, has assured the Cabinet that with Lib Dem support for the treaty, the Government will not be defeated on the bill, but the lengthy debate promised by Mr Brown to his MPs is likely to be bloody and debilitating for the Government.
However, the Tory leader is also facing a row with some of his own MPs who do not believe he has gone far enough. A group of right-wing euro-sceptics are demanding a commitment that the Tories will go into the next election promising a retrospective referendum. One of Mr Cameron's aides said: "It would be too late. We need a referendum now."Reuse content