BLACKPOOL, England, Oct 2 (Reuters) Britain's opposition Conservatives today said, if elected, they would change the law so that any future transfer of power from Britain to the European Union would have to be put to a referendum.
The pledge is an attempt to ratchet up the pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour government over its refusal to permit a referendum on a new EU treaty.
The Conservatives say the treaty is almost identical to the defunct EU constitution on which Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, had promised a referendum, but Brown says it is different.
''The next Conservative government will amend the 1972 European Communities Act, so that if any future government agrees any treaty that transfers further competences from Britain to the EU a national referendum ... would be required by law,'' Conservative foreign affairs spokesman William Hague told his party's annual conference to loud applause.
Hague signalled that the Conservatives would turn the referendum into a key issue if Brown calls a snap general election in the next two months.
Hague said the government's attempt to portray the treaty as ''fundamentally different from the EU constitution, when 240 of the 250 provisions are exactly the same, is one of the most bare-faced and deliberate misrepresentations in the modern annals of political deceit.'' He promised that a Conservative administration would hold a referendum on any treaty that emerges from an summit of EU leaders on Oct 18 and 19.
Brown is under growing pressure to concede a referendum from several newspapers, union leaders and some members of his own party as well as the Conservatives.
Political analysts say Britons could easily vote against the treaty, dealing a blow to the European Union and to Brown's prestige.
EU leaders agreed in June on a blueprint for the treaty to overhaul the enlarged 27-nation bloc's creaking institutions, replacing a more ambitious constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
Hague said the Conservatives wanted to make the EU ''a force for good in facing up to global poverty, global warming and global competition''.
''Our hostility to more power for its commissioners and courts lies in our belief that it already has too much centralised power and that the passing of power to ever more distant institutions feeds the disenchantment with politics which may cost our democracy dear,'' he said.
REUTERS ARB AS1750