By Hilary White

LONDON, March 6, 2008 ( – Britain’s MPs voted yesterday to deny the public a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Union’s substitute for the Constitution that failed in 2005 after being defeated by Dutch and French plebiscites. The House of Commons vote, 311 to 248 – a majority of 63 – defeated a Conservative amendment that would have allowed the British public a say in whether the treaty would come into effect in the country. Commentators and activists fighting the issue have called the vote yesterday in the House of Commons the effective end of British sovereignty.

The Conservative opposition are planning to reintroduce their amendment in the House of Lords later this year. The Lords, however, have little power to defeat legislation.

The vote followed closely on the heels of ten local “mini-polls” held last week in Labour and Liberal Democrat constituencies that resulted in 88 per cent support for a referendum. In the 2005 election all three major parties promised a referendum on any attempt to revive the defeated Euro-Constitution.

The Lisbon Treaty will see the creation of a permanent EU president, foreign minister and diplomatic service that are not subject to scrutiny by Parliament or accountable to the electorate, and surrenders nearly 50 national vetoes to Brussels. The new EU president will be a full-time Brussels official, serving a two-and-half-year term and will be chosen by Europe’s leaders. A Brussels-appointed foreign minister will be able to make foreign policy, binding upon member states, without a full British national veto.

Critics charge that the Treaty, signed by Gordon Brown last year, will restrict Britain’s ability to police its borders, control immigration, fight crime and domestic terrorism, reject EU regulations on employment law and energy policy, and leave it dependent upon an outside power in foreign policy decisions. The Treaty is to come into force January 1, 2009, in time for the 2009 European elections later that year.

The Daily Telegraph, the paper that led the charge for a referendum, called the vote “a singularly squalid example of bullying and gerrymandering that has left even hardened participants in the Commons open-mouthed at government cynicism”.

Iain Martin wrote, “When the entire story is told by historians, future generations will be surprised that the Euro-fanatics who plotted to sell out British sovereignty and democracy avoided being sent to the Tower for treason.”

Melanie Philips, a columnist for the Daily Mail and the author of “Londonistan”, wrote that the process of the Treaty through the House of Lords is a mere formality. She wrote, “At a stroke, much of what remains of the UK’s power of self-government will now be negated and the rest will surely follow in due course.”

When the Treaty of Lisbon surfaced as a political issue last year, Tony Blair’s successor, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, refused to allow a plebiscite, claiming that the Treaty was “substantially different” from the defeated Constitution. He made assurances that British sovereignty in key areas such as criminal law enforcement and anti-terror measures were protected. His assurances were widely rejected and have become the focus of widespread discontent with Labour’s policies and the increasing power of Brussels.

The Treaty’s authors and some of its European political supporters have admitted that the document is little changed from that rejected in 2005. Only ten of its 250 proposals are different from the original Constitution and the Treaty’s critics say those ten are of little consequence. 

The author of the Constitution, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, said, “All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.”

The Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero admitted, “We have not let a single substantial point of the Constitutional Treaty go.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “The substance of the Constitution is preserved. That is a fact.”

Melanie Philips wrote, “One thousand years of British history have been extinguished without a shot being fired.” She says that the only possible recourse now is to remove Britain entirely from the European Union: “There is not one good reason why it is in Britain’s interests to continue to stay in.  We should come out in order to save British democracy. End of story.”

John Redwood, MP for Wokingham, a senior Tory and political theorist, wrote that the vote had emboldened the Labour government to push forward with universal ID cards, a scheme that has been promoted as a means of combating terrorism, but that many outside the Labour party have condemned as a step further towards a police state in which innocent citizens are closely monitored by the state.

  Redwood wrote, “Everywhere we hear the smack of autocracy, as an out of touch government continues its battle against the British people and their liberties…The visceral hatred of democracy and liberty emanating from the government is now nauseating.”