The Government faced fresh demands for a referendum on the UK's continued membership of the European Union today as the continent's leaders struggled to find a solution to the single-currency crisis.
10:38AM BST 07 Jun 2012
Chancellor George Osborne said the Government was legally committed to holding a referendum only if fresh powers were transferred to Brussels.
But former Labour foreign secretary Lord Owen said he believed it was inevitable that there would be a ballot on future membership of the EU by 2016.
The Government also faced calls from a group of Tory backbenchers to renegotiate the UK's relationship with Europe, while one MP prepared legislation which could see the country withdraw from the EU altogether.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Osborne said the Government had passed into law a ''referendum lock'' which would trigger a plebiscite if new powers passed to Brussels.
''That is a crucial safeguard that now exists,'' he said. ''It's probably one of the most significant things we have done over the last two years.''
The Chancellor was pressed on whether the new structures the EU produces in response to the euro crisis would involve reshaping the UK's relationship with Brussels.
He said: ''What the public are concerned about, what the British people are concerned about would be if there was any transfer of power or sovereignty.
''A reshaped relationship with Europe would imply, would involve, a transfer of sovereignty or powers from the UK to Brussels.''
But he said there was a ''very clear safeguard'' that if there was a proposed transfer of powers ''then there will be a referendum''.
''That is not something that happened at the time of the Lisbon Treaty and the constitution, that is not something that happened at the time of the Maastricht Treaty.
''We have now put right that by ensuring, in law, there is this referendum lock.''
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