David Miliband, whose Jewish father fled the Nazis, reacted furiously when a Labour MP likened his negotiations over a new European Union treaty to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler.
The Foreign Secretary was involved in an explosive clash with Michael Connarty, chairman of the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, who accused him of claiming "peace in our time" over the EU treaty – the ill-fated phrase used by the British Prime Minister in 1938 after talks with Hitler a year before the Second World War.
Mr Connarty's committee has cast doubt on the safeguards won by the Government in the EU blueprint and was questioning Mr Miliband ahead of the summit of European leaders in Lisbon starting tomorrow which is expected to approve it.
The Labour MP made his remark when he claimed Britain could suffer financial penalties if it continued to opt out of common EU policies on justice and home affairs. He said the latest draft of the treaty contained "bullying clauses" and was shocked the Foreign Secretary had agreed to them. "I have visions of 'peace in our time' when you speak," he told Mr Miliband.
The Foreign Secretary replied that he was "cut to the absolute quick" by the comparison. In a reference to his late father, the left-wing intellectual Ralph Miliband, he said: "Maybe I feel this particularly personally but to say this is the equivalent of Neville Chamberlain coming back from Munich claiming to have an agreement with Adolf Hitler – that is not worthy."
Mr Connarty, Labour MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, apologised for his comment. But he joined Tory MPs in questioning whether the Government's much-vaunted "red lines" to protect Britain's independence would be as watertight as it claimed.
He said: "I am not convinced by the argument that this has strengthened the hand of the UK." He also criticised the "excessive secrecy" with which the new treaty had been drawn up.
But Mr Miliband told the MP it was "by no means likely" that Britain would incur any financial penalties if it failed to opt in to EU co-operation on justice and home affairs matters after five years. He said: "The burden of proof is the other way. The provision offers clear protection for the UK by limiting any financial liability in a very strict way... The circumstances under which this would apply are very narrow indeed."
The Foreign Secretary insisted Britain's four "red lines" – on justice and home affairs, tax and social security, foreign and defence policy, and a Charter of Fundamental Rights – were "fully secure".
Mark Francois, the Tory spokesman on Europe, said later: "David Miliband did not hold up well and was evasive in answering detailed questions. The Government strategy for Lisbon is based on the red lines, and this afternoon, after detailed scrutiny by a Committee of experts, the red lines imploded and the chairman exploded."
William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, dismissed the "red lines" as the "Maginot Line" because "you can just walk around them". He said: "Gordon Brown has absolutely no moral or democratic mandate to force this through."
How Miliband's father escaped from the Nazis
Ralph Miliband was born Adolphe Miliband in Brussels in 1924. His parents were Polish Jews who had migrated to Belgium. During the German occupation, he fled to England with his father, while his mother hid in the Belgian countryside. He joined the Royal Navy in 1943 and fought in the war. Afterwards, he taught at the London School of Economics, briefly joining the Labour Party in 1951. He became one of Britain's most influential and colourful left-wing intellectuals, writing scores of books, often critical of parties like Labour which compromised with capitalism. He died in 1994.Reuse content