A vote on Europe at last…but we’re staying in, says Hague

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

WILLIAM Hague has ruled out letting the public decide whether Britain stays in the EU – even if MPs vote for it.

The Foreign Secretary has brushed off a 100,000-name petition demanding a referendum and appears to have shed his hardline Euro-sceptic beliefs, insisting: “Our place is in the European Union.”

His remarks will infuriate the Tory right-wing who are already threatening to use the issue to hijack this week’s party conference in Manchester.

MPs have been forced to stage a Commons debate on Britain’s future in Europe after Independent MEP Nikki Sinclaire handed in a petition demanding a referendum at 10 Downing Street.

More than 80 backbench Tories want voters to have the final say and many Labour MPs could back the move because it would be hugely popular with the public, who now pay an average of £299 a year each to run the EU.

It would be the first time Parliament has held a major debate on a giving the public a say since the 1975 referendum confirmed the decision to join the Common Market – and could be held before Christmas.

But if MPs vote in favour of a referendum, it would not be binding on the government.

And asked if he would grant one, Mr Hague said bluntly: “No”.

He admits the EU is “cumbersome, slow and bureacratic” but stresses the upside is the power of 27 nations uniting on vital issues such as imposing sanctions against Syria.

Mr Hague (pictured left with David Wooding) said: “When you you’ve negotiated them, 95 per cent of the sales of crude ooils are stopped because 27 nations together act on that.”

The former Tory leader’s comments are more remarkable because he fought and lost the 2001 general election on a tough anti-EU stance.

He still believes Brussels has too much power but since entering government has seen the bloc of nations acting as a power for good in the world.

Mr Hague’s referendum snub will anger his party’s Right-wing gathering in Manchester today – but cheer pro-EU Lib Dem coalition partners.

Mark Pritchard, secretary of the Conservative 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, said: “Europe is back as an issue. That is my message.”

Human Rights

But Home Secretary Theresa May has delighted the Right by calling for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped.

She said: “I’d personally like to see it go because I think we have had some problems with it.”

Her words fly in the face of Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s speech the the Lib Dems two weeks ago when he said the controversial Act was “here to stay”.

Europe and human rights will be among the hottest issues for David Cameron in his second conference as Prime Minister.

The economy, law and order and welfare reform will also be high on the agenda.

Mr Cameron will also be keen to reach out to woman after polls show he has problems appealing to female voters.

When asked to score on his understanding of women’s issues, respondents gave him just one out of 10.

In an interview with The Sunday Times today,  Mr Cameron admits he made a “terrible mistake” with his “calm down, dear” remark at Labour MP Angela Eagle in the Commons earlier this year.

He declared: “It’s my fault. I’ve got to do better, I totally accept. I’m the one who’s got to explain who I am, what I think and what I’m like.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

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