European Union Bill - Constitution Committee Contents

CHAPTER 4: Conclusions

64.  The European Union Bill is a complex Bill, one that contains many highly technical provisions. This in part reflects the intricate dynamics of European integration with which the Bill seeks to grapple. But it is also in part the product of a very detailed specification of, in particular, the referendum lock. We are concerned that this hinders transparency and accessibility in an important new element of constitutional law.

65.  The Bill breaks new ground in the UK constitution by its imposition of referendum requirements on such a large scale. In the terms of our report, Referendums in the United Kingdom, we note that a measure such as the UK joining the euro could sensibly be considered a "fundamental constitutional issue". But this is not the case with very many of the targets of referendum locks. We conclude that many of the referendum locks are unlikely ever to be used, either as a matter of policy or by reason of practical difficulty.

66.  Clauses 7 to 10 of the Bill represent useful additions to Parliament's role.

67.  Clause 18 rehearses the fundamental constitutional principle that directly effective and directly applicable EU law only takes effect in the UK legal order through the will of Parliament and by virtue of an Act of Parliament.

68.  The simplified revision procedures are commonly described as seeking to grease the wheels of European integration. Conversely, the control mechanisms set out in the European Union Bill seek to limit this effect. (Para 16)

69.  We draw attention to the complex and highly technical nature of the referendum lock provisions in Part 1. The multiple specification of individual Treaty provisions hinders rather than helps transparency and accessibility in the law. (Para 26)

70.  The European Union Bill is a radical step-change in the adoption of referendum provisions. (Para 36)

71.  In our judgement, the resort to referendums contemplated in the European Union Bill is not confined to the category of fundamental constitutional issues on which a UK-wide referendum may be judged to be appropriate. Furthermore, many of the Bill's provisions are inconsistent with the Government's statement that referendums are most appropriately used in relation to fundamental constitutional issues. (Para 37)

72.  We agree with the re-balancing of domestic constitutional arrangements in favour of Parliament. (Para 40)

73.  The referendum lock is primarily designed to target possible developments during the lifetime of a successor Parliament. We think it appropriate to reaffirm the fundamental constitutional principle that no Parliament may bind its successors. We consider it axiomatic that, as with any other Bill, Parliament could repeal or amend any or all of the control mechanisms established by the Bill, including the referendum lock provisions. (Para 44)

74.  We accept that ministerial statements required by clause 5 could be subject to judicial review proceedings. (Para 48)

75.  Geared to formal legal change at the European Union level, the control mechanisms in Part 1 cannot contend with multiple political and administrative processes of collaboration, co-ordination and networking that are widely seen as drawing the Member States more closely together. Nor can these mechanisms control the future jurisprudence of the Court of Justice concerning the principles of EU law. We draw attention to these limitations. (Para 51)

76.  We agree with the European Scrutiny Committee that the ruling in Thoburn reflected the well understood and orthodox position. Clause 18 is self-evident: it restates, but does not change, the law. (Para 58)

77.  We are confident that if parliamentary sovereignty were to be questioned in any other context, the existence of clause 18 would not prevent the courts from upholding the well understood and orthodox position. (Para 60)

78.  We commend the decision to revise the Explanatory Notes. (Para 63)

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