Tories Attack Gordon Brown Over Treaty Signing
By Melissa Kite and Justin Stares
Last Updated: 2:39am GMT 12/12/2007
Gordon Brown will be the only leader absent from the signing of the EU Reform Treaty this week, it has emerged.
The Prime Minister is citing a diary clash as the reason for his failure to attend the ceremony, but campaigners against the treaty are claiming that the Prime Minister does not want to be associated with it because of its unpopularity.
Mr Brown has been invited to Lisbon by the Portuguese government, which holds the EU presidency, along with the leaders of the other 26 EU member states. Officials in Lisbon last night said all other national leaders had said they would attend.
Downing Street denied that Mr Brown wanted to avoid the ceremony.
A spokesman said he was due to face the Commons liaison committee - made up of senior MPs - on Thursday morning, just hours before the ceremony takes place in Lisbon.
The spokesman for No 10 said: "He does want to go but it may not be possible."
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, is likely to fly to Portugal to sign the document. The spokesman said there were precedents for prime ministers not signing key EU Treaties, pointing out that the then foreign secretary Robin Cook signed the Nice Treaty in 2001.
The EU Reform Treaty, which critics say is virtually identical to the rejected EU Constitution, still has to be ratified by MPs at Westminster before coming into force.
With opposition among Labour MPs growing, the battle could be the most gruelling the Government has yet experienced.
The Tories are hinting that they will offer a referendum on the changes even if the document is ratified.
The Conservatives accused the Prime Minister of running scared on the issue after repeatedly refusing widespread, cross-party demands for a referendum despite promising one on the proposed constitution.
John Redwood, the head of the Tories' competitiveness commission, said: "Brown is ashamed of selling Britain down the river and has once again done his vanishing act.
"It is not good enough to leave it to the office boy when you have done something so bad for Britain. It is time he owned up to how much power this treaty is transferring and gave the British people a vote."
More than 110,000 people have signed The Telegraph's petition demanding that the Government stands by its manifesto commitment to hold a referendum.