“Willy-no-mates” Tories need to engage in mature Europe debate says minister

May 20, 2009 at 1:45 pm Leave a comment

eu
by Dan Billingham

Conservative promises to renegotiate Britain’s ratification of the Lisbon treaty should the party be elected were attacked by Labour members and ministers in the Commons yesterday.

Tory members in turn criticised Labour for not holding a referendum on a treaty in a Foreign Office questions session that shed little new light on one of the great polarising issue in British politics, just weeks before European elections.

Minister for Europe Caroline Flint slammed “narrow and blinkered” Tory plans as threatening “disaster for families and businesses in the United Kingdom and for our future security prospects.”

They would seriously damage Britain’s relationship with the rest of the European Union she said.

In a session that was laced with petty accusations, Flint agreed with party colleague Doug Henderson’s prediction that Tory policy in practice would mean that the “economic, foreign and defence policy of this country would be undermined by those silly schoolboys.”

“I think that the shadow Foreign Secretary, in hunting around Europe for allies, is in danger of becoming a Willy-no-mates,” she said.

That comment prompted laughter from the Tory benches, suggesting that they may not be sillier but are undoubtedly better-versed in schoolboy lexicon than the Labour minister.

Remarkably, minutes later Flint decried the immaturity of EU debate in Britain, saying: “No institution is perfect—this one is not and the European Union is not—but we must have a mature debate about what it delivers. That delivery is real, tangible and positively affects the lives of Britons throughout the United Kingdom.”

Shadow Minister for Europe Mark Francois repeated his party’s attack on the lack of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty: “The Minister needs to have a word with the Prime Minister, because he has referred in public to the Lisbon treaty as the European constitution, so if he can admit it, why can she not do so?

“We know that the whole House needs to reconnect with the British people. Would an important way of encouraging that process be for the Government now finally to grant a referendum on the European constitution, which is what all three parties solemnly promised in their 2005 general election manifestos?”

Flint rejected this analysis.

Eurosceptic Conservative Iain Duncan Smith, after indicating that he still resented the lack of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, raised concerns about the probable ratification of the Lisbon treaty in Ireland:

“Does she therefore think that it is right that, just because the Irish voted the wrong way—according to Europe—they should be bullied into voting the right way?”

Flint was unequivocal in her response: “Absolutely no bullying of the Irish is taking place.”

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