on the EU constitution was promised in 2004 because it represented a

On the eu constitution was promised in 2004 because

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on the EU constitution was promised in 2004 because it represented a fundamental shift in the balance of power, the right hon. Gentleman said that that was not the reason. The reason a referendum was promised on that occasion, and therefore was in the Labour party’s election manifesto, was apparently to “clear the air” on the European issue. So after all the talk of constitutional practice and the necessity for a declaration of the contents of the treaty to be decisive in determining whether a referendum was held, it turned out that in the Foreign Secretary’s own view, the Government of whom he was part promised a referendum not because of any constitutional practice or any particular contents of the previous treaty, but because they wanted to clear the air. Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? Mr. Hague: I will give way in due course. The constitutional doctrine now appears to be that a referendum is held when the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister—who were both in the Government when a referendum was promised—want to clear the air. The potential for holding referendums when there is a need to clear the air is probably limitless, given the number of issues at any one time on which the air needs to be cleared. Whether it be the closure of thousands of post offices at the hands of an incompetent Government or the release ahead of time of thousands of prisoners, which is even more incompetent, there are many issues on which people would love to clear the air. If a national ballot is to be held every time we need to clear the air, how about having a general election, so that we can clear out the Government as well? As the Foreign Secretary is perhaps the brightest member of the Cabinet, the confusion into which he entered by making this argument is a sure sign of the intellectual incoherence to which the Government have been reduced. The reason this is so revealing is that it confirms a truth that has been put to the Government several times during the course of our debates by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who is not present today. I have always respected his support for the treaty and opposition to a referendum, because he has always been so clear about that, even in general election campaigns. He has called on the Foreign Secretary to
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11 Mar 2008 : Column 166 stop the nonsense of pretending that the two treaties are fundamentally different, and to admit that the early commitment to a referendum was entirely for short-term party motives, for which the term “clear the air” is the shorthand. For the truth is that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister now believe that the former Prime Minister made a serious error in promising a referendum, and that that error has reduced them to arguing that something that is 90 per cent. the same is fundamentally different. The Government promised a referendum in 2004 because they were approaching a general election and the former Prime Minister thought he might
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  • Fall '08
  • Finklerberg

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