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I predict that when I come back on this programme...people will be saying, Wouldnt it be great to have that Blair back because we cant stand Gordon Brown?
That does make him one of the most far-sighted forecasters in British politics in 2007. The Prime Minister has just spent days dithering over whether to go to the signing ceremony in Lisbon, finally arriving at the bold move of attending the signing but not the photograph. It is no wonder that the Foreign Secretary formed that early opinion of the Prime Minister.
On the Governments approach to frank discussion of the treaty, the Foreign Secretary and his predecessor were at fault. I shall not quote again the passage that
my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has already quoted, but I believe it to be true. Even now it is unclear just how much debate there will be in the House of this far-ranging treaty. Ministers have told the press that there will be 20 days of debate, although it would not be difficult to fill far more than that. However, they have not so far been forthcoming on the matter in the House and we look forward to hearing how many days of debate there will be.
The treaty will bring about a profound change in the EUs structures and powers, with major consequences for Britain. One way to illustrate to the House the scale of what is proposed is to look at the wide range of proposals in the treaty to which the Government were themselves opposed in recent years, and even in recent months. As recently as June this year, the Government argued that the high representative or Foreign Minister should not be able to chair the regular meetings of Foreign Ministers or take over the resources of the European Commissioner responsible for external affairs, but both of those things are to happen.
Philip Davies: Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Government have negotiated such a marvellous deal they have nothing to fear from putting it to a referendum of the British people? Is not the only conclusion that can be drawn that they think either that the public are far too thick to decide such matters for themselves or that the Government would be caught with their trousers down?
Mr. Hague: Well, let me put it in a different way. The Government dare not put the treaty to a referendum of the people because they are not confident of the arguments that they have marshalled in favour of it.
The ability of the high representative or Foreign Minister to speak for the whole EU at the UN Security Council was emphatically opposed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Governments representative on the European convention when it started its deliberations. He tried to water down the provision to the Foreign Minister being able only to request to speak for the Union, but the original proposal is in the treaty.
The self-amending nature of the treaty was also opposed by the Government, with the White Paper in 2003 firmly opposing any further moves to qualified majority voting without a fresh treaty. But today, the ability to abolish further national vetoes without a new treaty is there in black and white.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it was Margaret Thatcher in 1984 who first called for the European Community to develop an integrated foreign policy? She took the lead in that, and in the Single European Act in 1986 she also supported the idea of self-amendment when supported by unanimity. Why does the right hon. Gentleman sound like a ranting Labour Europhobe of the 1980s?
We think that a self-amending constitutional treaty does not make a lot of sense.
It may help the Committee
to know that, when I discussed the matter with my French opposite number, she thought that the so-called passerelle clause would need amendment before it would be acceptable to France.[ Official Report, Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, 20 October 2003; c. 20.]
That was the right hon. Gentleman, rather than Thatcherites of the 1980s, stating his opposition. If he would like to intervene in an equally helpful way at any other point in my speech, he is most welcome to do so. The ability to abolish further national vetoes without a new treatysomething that he himself opposedis now there in black and white.
Ms Gisela Stuart: I thoroughly agree with the right hon. Gentleman: the passerelle clause was bad and unacceptable. However, may I have his view on a different proposal? What if the British Government said no to a further extension of qualified majority voting unless prior primary legislation came before the House? Would Conservative Members support that?
Mr. Hague: The issue very much requires that kind of commitment. The Government said that they would hold a parliamentary vote, but they have not said that primary legislation will be required. Of course, the hon. Lady must understand that we are opposed to the treaty, and we call for a referendum, but if the Government are in any way trying to mitigate what they have signed up to, they should at minimum be offering full legislation, and not simply a parliamentary vote. We could go on with the list of all the things that the Government opposed, but to which they have now agreed.
Mrs. Dunwoody: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not intend to keep him long. Is he aware that we do not need any kind of change, because as we have recently seen with Galileo, it does not matter what the House of Commons thinks about particular items, if our views are to be totally ignored through the use of qualified majority voting?
Mr. Hague: On the particular matter that we are discussing, unanimity is required to abolish further vetoes, and I suppose that it would be possible to build into the procedures of the House further safeguards on that. However, in respect of many other matters, what the hon. Lady says is quite right.
The Government opposed many proposals: the election of the Commission President by the European Parliament, the setting-up of a European public prosecutor without a right of veto over it, the enshrining of competition policy as an exclusive competence of the EU, the definition given to employment, public health, transport networks and consumer protection as shared competences, the articles on the EUs power to co-ordinate employment and economic policies, the establishment of QMV on proposals made by the EU Foreign Minister, the references to a common defence policy, and the definition of policy on foreign direct investment as an exclusive competence of the EU. All those measures are in the treaty that the Government are about to sign, but all of them were opposed by the Government.
Angus Robertson: The right hon. Gentleman has been very generous. He talked about enshrining policy areas as exclusive competences. Among them is the common fisheries policy. Can he think of a single positive reason why that change should take place, and does he agree that it is bad for Scotland, and that it effectively precludes the likes of Norway and Iceland ever joining the European Union?
Mr. Hague: The fisheries policy has been a catastrophe in many ways. It has been an environmental and economic catastrophe for this country and many others. It would greatly extend my speech if I were to go into more detail on it today, but criticisms of it are well founded.
raise sensitive issues relating to national sovereignty,
yet now they maintain that all those things, which they opposed, can be signed away without any damaging impact on national sovereignty. That is even before we come to what Ministers say are their red lines. It is clear that they spent so much time retreating over so many lines in the sand that they can no longer even remember where or what they were.
One by one, the Governments arguments on the treaty have been knocked down. First, they said that it was quite different from the constitution, and they made reassuring noises. The Foreign Secretary talked about the Conservative Prime Minister of Denmark. He should know that the Danish Prime Minister belongs to a party that is in the Liberal group in the European Parliament, so it is a doubtful proposition that he will persuade Conservative Members to agree with his argument, on the basis that they would be agreeing with the Liberals.
the constitutional concept...has been abandoned.
references to abandoning a constitutional concept...are...likely to be misleading in so far as they might suggest the Reform Treaty is of lesser significance than the Constitutional Treaty.
Yesterday, another of the Governments argumentsthat we desperately a need a new treaty to avoid institutional standstill after EU enlargementwas knocked down by yet another study, this time by the London School of Economics, which found that
the business as usual picture in the EU is more convincing than the gridlock picture as regards practice in and output from the EU institutions since May 2004.
The truth about the treaty is that it is not actually necessary. The Government have therefore been forced to say that it does not pose a problem, because all their negotiating objectives have been reached.
The Committee found that control of tax and social security was never seriously threatened, confirming our view that the whole purpose of that red line was just a bit of spin. On foreign policy, it found that the treaty
extensively modifies the existing EU Treaty provisions on CFSP and adds almost all of the proposals in the Constitutional Treaty,
an ever increasing degree of convergence of Member States actions.
The Governments declaration on foreign policy has already been exposed as legally meaningless, and the Committee has confirmed that the EUs powers in foreign policy will be expanded. Given that expert witnesses have confirmed to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that the only changes in foreign policy between the EU constitution and the treaty are a change in job title for the EU Foreign Minister and the existence of a new declaration that is not legally binding, that red line is thoroughly discredited.
Ministers claims that they won an opt-out from the charter have been dropped, to be followed by an admission that it is merely a clarification of how the charter would apply to Britain and that the charter will be legally binding. The European Scrutiny Committee said:
It...seems doubtful to us that the Protocol has the effect that the courts of this country will not be bound by interpretations of measures of Union law given by the ECJ and based on the Charter.
In other words, the charter can be circumvented. Once again, another Government red line is exposed as more cosmetic than effective. On justice and home affairs, the Committee reiterates the important point that
the powers of the Commission and the ECJ are considerably increased when matters move from the Third Pillar to the First.
It gives more details and, doubtless, other hon. Members will deal with that subject at greater length. In the interests of time, I will desist from doing so, but it is a fundamental point. It was one of the most important features of the original Constitution that criminal and civil justice and policing would no longer be intergovernmental matters, and the red line does not change that effect in any way. The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the Committees stringent criticisms of the Governments failure to ensure that, unlike Denmark, our position vis-Ã -vis existing agreed measures is secure. The Committee concludes that
under the system to be established by the Reform Treaty, a Member State will lose the ability finally to determine its own law
to the extent that measures are adopted at Union level.
These conclusions must be taken seriously. They come from a Committee that has a majority of the governing party in the House. Each of the Governments red lines is in turn exposed as weak or worthless. The last of Ministers arguments that the treaty is significantly different from the EU constitution has been demolished.
In any other field of policy, it would be thought perverse to hand more responsibilities to a body that cannot properly manage those that it already possesses, yet that is what Ministers propose to do. This is the 13th year that the Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the EUs accounts. Year after year, the European Union fails to look after taxpayers money to the standard that taxpayers have every right to expect. It is time Ministers took more action over that than they have in recent years.
The abolition of national vetoes69 by one account, and 50 by the Governments latest tallyis another important issue. It is astonishing that Ministers are so blithe about it when they are even now fighting a desperate rearguard action on the temporary workers directive, whose red tape would, according to the CBI, endanger 250,000 jobs. The Government are finding it very hard to keep a blocking minority together, but they need a blocking minority only because this area is an EU competence and subject to qualified majority voting, both of which are a direct consequence of the abandonment of our opt-out from the social chapter in 1997.
On the single market, the reform treatyin this context, surely an ironic nameis not just a step back from the current treaties, but even a step back from the constitution as it was drafted. The EU has some great achievements to its name. Enlargement is one, and the success of its competition laws is another. But by allowing the French Government to downgrade, for the first time, undistorted competition in the internal
market from one of the EUs chief objectives to a mere protocol must be one of the most remarkable examples of a British Government being asleep on the job at a summit since we joined the European Union.
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