Rebel Labour MPs are expected to join forces with the Conservatives today (21 January) in a bid to force through a referendum on the new EU Reform Treaty, after a report by the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that the text is the same as the abandoned EU Constitution.
A group of 19 Labour MPs are planning to table an amendment calling for a referendum on the EU Treaty, which UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown signed last month along with the 26 other EU heads of state and government.
The move comes as the bill on the treaty's ratification begins its passage through Parliament with a second reading debate in the Commons. Six weeks of explosive Parliamentary debate are then expected to follow before the final vote takes place in March.
Although the rebellion, led by Labour Eurosceptic Ian Davidson, does not look sufficient to win any vote so far, there are fears that it could grow in size in the coming weeks, thus threatening a politically costly parliamentary defeat for the prime minister.
"This is the start of the battle rather than the end of the war," stressed Davidson, who says that up to another 100 Labour MPs are unhappy with the government's refusal to hold a referendum and could ultimately back his amendment.
The case for a referendum was further strengthened yesterday (20 January) with the publication of a report by the House of Commons' Labour-dominated Foreign Affairs Committee, which claims that the British government is misleading the public by playing down the significance of new institutions, such as the creation of a new full-time EU President and foreign affairs chief.
"We conclude that there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign affairs in the Constitutional Treaty, which the government made subject to approval in a referendum, and those in the Lisbon Treaty, on which a referendum is being denied," concludes the report.
But members of Brown's government continued to defend the Treaty as a "good deal" for Britain, with Foreign Secretary David Miliband stressing: "The Reform Treaty gives Britain a bigger voice in Europe and enshrines children's rights for the first time."
Europe Minister Jim Murphy added: "I am confident that there will be a strong parliamentary majority for this treaty […] We'll see about the parliamentary mathematics of it, but it's cuckoo-land to say there are 100 MPs on the Labour benches that are going to vote against."
Nevertheless, demands for a referendum continued to spread around the country as organisers of the "I Want A Referendum " campaign announced the holding of 10 polls on the treaty in constituencies accounting for half a million people, in what they say will be the biggest vote on Europe since 1975, when Britain voted to stay in the Common Market.
I Want a Referendum (IWR) has commissioned Electoral Reform Services to run a series of referendums on the EU Constitution in parliamentary constituencies across the country. We want to give people the vote the Government is denying them.