Thursday, 5 November 2009

Conservatives New Policy Towards European Union

The Lisbon Treaty has now been signed by President Klaus and will become part of European Union law Tuesday, 1st December. Given this situation, the Conservatives have announced a series of measures for which they will seek a mandate at the next general election. The measures are:

Unilateral measures which can be taken without reference to European Partners
An Irish style ‘referendum lock’ on any treaty handing over further powers from Britain to the EU. Achieved through amending the 1972 European Communities Act so that any future treaty which transfers competences (powers) from Britain to the EU would have to be subject to a referendum, as is already effectively the case in Ireland.

A legal lock ensuring a referendum if any British government tries to take Britain into the Euro. The party are pledged never to take Britain into the Euro. But to prevent any future British Government from trying to do so without a referendum, an amendment to the 1972 Act will be made.

A United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill, to ensure the ultimate sovereignty of the UK Parliament. Unlike many other European countries, Britain does not have a written constitution. Given the increasing amount of EU law with which we have to deal, Conservatives would amend the law to insert a sovereignty clause to make it explicit that, ultimately, Britain’s Parliament is sovereign and cannot be overruled by the European Union against its will. This is similar in principle to the situation in Germany whereby the German Constitution ‘the Basic Law’ is ultimately supreme.

Full Parliamentary control over the self-amending clauses in the Lisbon Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty contains a number of ratchet clauses (known also as ‘passerelles’) whereby the powers of the EU could be expanded in the future without a new treaty. Conservatives would change the law so that using any passerelle would require a British government to pass an Act of Parliament (rather than a simple motion and a 90 minute debate, as currently proposed under Labour).
These measures can be brought in unilaterally by an incoming Conservative government without the need to seek approval from our European partners.

‘British guarantees’ on the operation of Lisbon and social and employment legislation, which will require negotiation with our EU partners

It is the Conservative Party’s intention to use the forthcoming general election deliberately to seek a mandate to negotiate ‘British guarantees’ on the application of the Lisbon Treaty and on seeking to restore key powers to Britain.

These would include:
A full opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR. Tony Blair stated that he had obtained an opt-out from the CFR. He had not. As Ministers have subsequently admitted, he only obtained a ‘clarification’ as to how it would apply. The Conservatives want to upgrade this to a full opt-out so that the CFR, which for instance would interfere with our trade union legislation, cannot be made to apply in Britain.

Greater protection against EU encroachment into the UK’s Criminal Justice System. Lisbon provides Britain with an ‘opt-in’ over criminal justice matters but Conservatives want broader protection provided by an additional protocol. This would protect against EU judges extending their control over our Criminal Justice System, and we also want to ensure that only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain.

Restoration of national control over social and employment legislation. Lastly, Conservatives want to restore national control over those parts of social and employment legislation which have proved most damaging to the British economy.
The party intends to establish a European Policy Committee of the Shadow Cabinet, chaired by William Hague (currently Shadow Foreign Secretary), to work on the detail of these proposals.

We will seek to give these measures legal effect by adding them to a future accession treaty. This is the same mechanism that will give effect to the ‘Irish guarantees’ and also the more recent ‘Czech guarantees’ and we would seek to mirror it for the above British guarantees too.

The longer term

The Conservative Party will aim to implement these measures over the course of the next Parliament, if they form the government. Further if, over the lifetime of the next Parliament, they do not succeed in negotiating the return of these powers; or if, in fact, the EU does move in the wrong direction, if those circumstances were to occur, the policy announced yesterday states that Conservatives would not rule out a referendum on a wider package of guarantees to protect our democratic decision-making, while remaining a member of the European Union. However, that would be a judgement for the future, not for this election or for the next Parliament.

Perhaps the Conservative Party’s new policy is best summarised as:
"A Conservative government will never allow us to become part of a federal Europe and we have devised a series of specific measures which will protect Britain from this. We will seek a mandate from the British people to implement these measures at the forthcoming general election."

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