EU reform Bill passes its first hurdle

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Indy Politics

The Government comfortably won the first round of its gruelling battle over the European reform treaty last night, after facing angry accusations of betraying the voters.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, had a foretaste of struggles ahead as rebel Labour backbenchers and Tory MPs demanded a referendum on the treaty signed by Gordon Brown and other EU leaders in Lisbon last month. The Bill ratifying the treaty passed its second reading by 362 votes to 224, a majority of 138. But the crucial vote, when critics try to force a referendum, is not expected until next month.

Twenty days of parliamentary time have been set aside for the Brown government's first major test of strength in Westminster. The Bill faces savage criticism both in the Commons and in the Lords.

Mr Miliband hailed the treaty as "good for Britain and good for Europe", and argued that a referendum was not needed because the accord did not propose fundamental constitutional changes. But the senior Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody retorted: "I think you may find yourself alone in that point of view."

William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, accused the Government of "brazenly abrogating" Labour's commitment to hold a referendum. And he poured scorn on Mr Brown for allowing the contentious Bill to be introduced during his state visit to India.