16 JUN 2011
Former deputy PM votes to water down plans to hold referendums on future EU measures that transfer sovereignty
By Nicholas Watt | The Telegraph
Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister who brought down Margaret Thatcher in 1990 over Europe, returned to the fray when he joined a rebellion against David Cameron over the European Union in the House of Lords.
Heseltine, who was appointed last year by the prime minister to chair a regional growth fund, voted to water down government plans to hold referendums on future EU measures that transfer British sovereignty to Brussels.
He was joined by four other Tory cabinet ministers from the Thatcher era, and 19 Liberal Democrats, including two members of the SDP "Gang of Four", Baroness Williams of Crosby and Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. The rebels voted by 209 to 203 to introduce a "sunset clause" to the proposed referendum lock that would mean it would lapse after the next general election. The referendum lock, designed to ensure a nationwide vote is held if British sovereignty is transferred to Brussels, could then only be revived through resolutions in both houses of parliament.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, a Lib Dem rebel, said: "The coalition agreement committed us to a five year referendum lock on Europe, not permanent gridlock. That is why we voted for the sunset clause."
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, Britain's former ambassador to the EU, who moved the amendment, told peers: "I can think of no precedent for a bill which is designed solely to influence future parliaments. My fear is that other member states, seeing how much concrete we've poured over our feet, will be tempted to or forced to bypass our perceived rigidity, excluding us from the debate."
Lord Liddle of Carlisle, who was Tony Blair's European adviser, and who is now Labour's European spokesman, said: "This was a victory for a pro-European coalition in the House of Lords."
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