DAVID Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was yesterday compared to Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister who appeased Hitler, over Britain's approach to the new European Union treaty.
The extraordinary comparison was made by the Labour chairman of the House of Commons European scrutiny committee, and sparked furious complaints from Mr Miliband.
The angry exchange between the Foreign Secretary and Michael Connarty, the MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, came as the committee uncovered plans for Britain to pay a financial penalty for opting out of parts of the new treaty.
During heated exchanges, Mr Miliband accepted that under some circumstances, the UK would be forced to pay compensation to other EU countries if it decided not to play a full part in schemes such as a European arrest warrant or closer co-ordination of border controls.
The minister also admitted that the Charter of Fundamental Rights - which the government says will not apply in the UK - could be used by British citizens to take legal cases to the European Court of Justice. The charter sets down rights including the right to strike that business leaders say would be harmful to the UK economy.
Gordon Brown is under intense pressure to call a referendum on the new treaty, but argues that it does not involve the significant transfers of power away from the UK that would justify such a vote.
The Prime Minister will meet other European leaders in Lisbon tomorrow to initial the latest draft of the treaty, which is based on the European Constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
Mr Brown insists that Britain has "red line" negotiating positions that prevent any transfer of sovereignty on issues like defence, foreign policy, home affairs and the charter.
Mr Miliband's admissions at yesterday's committee only fuelled Tory charges that the "red lines" are being eroded despite Mr Brown's claims.
But the detailed debate was overshadowed by the row after Mr Connarty dismissed Mr Miliband's claims that Britain is succeeding in the treaty drafting process.
He told the Foreign Secretary: "When I hear you answer these questions, I think of the words 'peace in our time'."
That was the promise Mr Chamberlain in 1938 made when he returned from meeting Hitler in Munich when Hitler gave undertakings not to invade Czechoslovakia, promises Mr Chamberlain was happy to accept but which were quickly shown to be meaningless.
Mr Miliband's parents are Jewish, and his father fled Poland in the 1930s to escape the Nazi-led persecution of European Jews.
Mr Connarty later withdrew the comparison.