Hague: Lisbon Treaty against 'spirit of our age'

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The EU should not place its own president above any nation, the Tories warned today.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague set out his party's opposition to the Lisbon Treaty, telling the Conservative Party Conference it was "against the spirit of our age".

His comments came days after it was reported that Tony Blair had become the front-runner to be crowned the first EU president.

In a speech that roused two standing ovations, Mr Hague told supporters in Manchester: "We seek a European Union that acts by agreement among nations, rather than by placing its own president or foreign minister above any nation."

He warned that the Lisbon Treaty would result in the "ever greater centralisation of power beyond the democratic control of the people".

Mr Hague added: "In its lack of accountability and legitimacy it goes against our fundamental belief that people should only be led and governed with their consent."

It was important for Britain to be part of the EU so that Europe could use its "collective weight" for dealing with Iran over nuclear policy and Russia over energy security.

But under a Tory government, there would be a "distinctive British foreign policy, geared to the promotion of the British national interest."

He told the conference to loud applause: "It will be advanced, yes, through the European Union, but it will also be advanced through the alliance with the United States the current Government have recently mismanaged; through new friendships and alliances beyond North America and Europe which they have neglected to build and through networks such as the Commonwealth they have never bothered to remember at all."

He added: "We should never be ashamed of saying we will promote our own national interest, for the British national interest is no narrow agenda."

Mr Hague pledged to create a National Security Council to integrate the roles of the foreign, defence, energy, home and international development departments.

"When our soldiers are in the frontline and our intelligence services working to the limit, they are entitled to know that ministers will take the big decisions together, with all the information and followed through in every single department," he said.

He issued a strong warning to Iran over the country's development of nuclear weapons.

"Unless Iran changes course, the time is approaching for serious and far-reaching sanctions by European nations on Iran's financial transactions and oil and gas development," he said.

"The need to avert a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a challenge that outweighs all other considerations."

Mr Hague also hit out at Gordon Brown's approach to foreign affairs, telling the conference he was guilty of "the same calculating short-term cynicism that is bad enough when kept here at home".

He said: "Americans were not impressed by being told one thing about the Lockerbie bomber and Libya another, while the Prime Minister hid from telling the British people anything at all."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: "Today William Hague showed that as far as Europe is concerned, things stay the same in the Conservative Party, with the same old divisions threatening isolation for Britain.

"By skirting the real European issue of the day - what the Conservatives are going to do about the Lisbon Treaty - William Hague has shown the Conservatives are still putting the promises David Cameron made to his Europhobes before the interests of the country."

He added: "With Poland confirming they will ratify the treaty this weekend and the Czech prime minister confident that the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified by the end of the year, William Hague can't run away forever.

"The British people deserve a straight answer from the Conservatives."