Britain defends disputed EU referendum plans

Govt will have discretion not to call a referendum in "a few minor areas".

London: British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Sunday defended plans to hold referendums on any EU treaty changes in a bid to stave off a showdown in Parliament.

The European Union Bill, to be debated on Tuesday, is designed to ensure that any future transfers of powers to Brussels automatically trigger a referendum.

The pledge was a key part of the governing Conservatives` manifesto and seen by some as a measure that would go down well with the party`s right.

However, Conservative rebels say the plans do not go far enough and are so loosely worded they will likely mean that judges get the final say on whether a referendum takes place.

The government would have the discretion not to call a referendum in what Hague called "a few minor areas".

"It is our firm belief and our policy that no more powers should be moved from Britain to the EU," he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"Some people have argued that the bill does not go far enough or has loopholes.”

"But the truth is that only in a few minor areas does it give the ministers of the day any discretion at all about the calling of a referendum -- and then only if they can persuade Parliament and the courts that they are right.

"This will be the strongest defence of national democracy put in place anywhere in Europe. It is a massive advance for national democracy."

Hague said that not only would this be known in Britain, it would be known elsewhere in the EU too, giving the other 26 members something to think about if they considered increasing the bloc`s sovereignty.

Opposition Labour foreign affairs spokeswoman Yvette Cooper said the bill was "about failed Tory party management, not the issues that matter for Britain in Europe”.

"William Hague is wasting time trying and failing to keep his eurosceptics happy," she said.

"Even worse, the bill is so badly drafted and contradictory that it could lead to a lawyers` paradise."

Bureau Report