Archived ArticleDavid Cameron back-tracks on pledge to hold a referendum on Europe.
Therese Muchewicz, Party Leader on 05/11/09
David Cameron back-tracks on pledge to hold a referendum on Europe.
Yesterday David Cameron announced his party’s policy on Europe and whether or not that would include fulfilling an earlier promise that he would put the Lisbon Treaty before the British public in a referendum was clearly absent. Back-tracking on this pledge David Cameron claims that with the Lisbon Treaty now being law it would not be possible to hold a referendum. Instead, he would renegotiate on areas where the UK has already given power to Brussels, such as areas of social and employment legislation, negotiating on the Working Time Directive, the criminal justice system, and a complete opt-out from the EU’s Charter on Fundamental Rights.
David Cameron also announced that, if they won the next General Election, they would amend the European Communities Act 1972 to prohibit, by law, the transfer of further power to the EU without a referendum.
In conjunction with this the Conservative Party has announced a UK Sovereignty Act which they claim will ensure that British Law takes precedence over EU law. David Cameron announced that his party policy would ensure that there would be no further erosion of British Sovereignty to Brussels.
The measures announced yesterday, will buy the Conservative Party some valuable time but they will in no way fully appease the true Euro-sceptics within his party, or without. Indeed, David Davis, former Shadow Home Secretary, who set out his own, more stringent proposals earlier that same day, should, if he is true to his beliefs, continue to criticise his Leader’s stance on the referendum issue despite David Cameron’s assurances that his party was “close to unanimous” on its support for the policy.
Today saw the resignation of two senior front-bench MEPs in Daniel Hannan and Roger Helmer and the somewhat visceral condemnation of the French Europe Minister, Pierre Lellouche, who called the proposals “pathetic”, “autistic” and which would “castrate” Britain’s influence in Europe.
In some respects I would have to agree with the French Minister’s opinion; despite the Conservative’s grand gesture, this policy proposal is patchwork and does not go far enough. For most academics and lawyers, the Lisbon Treaty is the treaty that transfers full sovereignty over to Brussels. So for David Cameron to promise that “never again” would power be passed to the EU, without a referendum is tantamount to trying to deceive the British public. For precisely what powers are there left to be transferred now that the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified by all Member States? Roger Helmer, MEP is quoted as saying that it is rather like trying to rescue the family silver after it had been sold off!
The fact is the Lisbon Treaty was the final move towards a supranational state with new powers over foreign policy, justice and home affairs being vested in the European Union.
Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), as amended by the Lisbon Treaty, abolishes the European Community which the UK joined when the Conservative Government (led by the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath) signed the Treaty of Accession on 22 January 1972, and transfers all of its powers and institutions to the new post-Lisbon Union.
This EU has been given its own legal personality for the first time under Article 47, which makes it constitutionally separate from, and superior to, its 27 Member States. Post-Lisbon, it is this new European Union and not the European Community which is responsible for the increasingly large numbers of new laws we must obey each year.
The Lisbon Treaty also sees new powers of voting amongst each Member State, which will inevitably leave Britain with less power to decide on issues of national importance. It also sees us with the loss of many of our cherished powers of veto. The Lisbon Treaty extends the pattern of voting powers of the 27 Member States to qualified majority voting - at present applied to agriculture, competition rules, consumer protection, environment and judicial co-operation in civil matters and will, post-Lisbon apply from 2014 to energy, asylum, immigration, judicial co-operation in criminal matters, sport and financial assistance measures for developing countries - or what is now termed - double majority voting, meaning that decisions must meet two conditions: first, 55% of Member States must agree, and second, supporting Member States must represent 65% of the EU’s 500 million citizens. At present a qualified majority requires 255 weighted votes. There are, however, transitional arrangements in place for 2014–2017; during that time, a Member State may ask for the application of the current system rather than the new system. It is evident that countries such as Germany will have the lion-share of power within this new framework.
Clearly, it would be wrong to argue that the UK has surrendered all sovereignty over to the EU under the Lisbon Treaty, and we have to recognise that mechanisms do exist within the treaty for various opt-outs and that both Ireland and the UK are not, at present, obliged to be bound by decisions in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice but each may decide to be involved in particular issues – they may opt in or opt out of particular decisions. So there is some scope for maintaining some degree of sovereignty post Lisbon. However, the question is, is whether we have the power to resist further encroachment by the European Union, now that the Treaty has been ratified by all Member States. My answer is simple: I doubt it very much.
Admittedly, the UK has secured a written guarantee, under the Labour Party, that the Charter for Fundamental Rights cannot be used by the European Court of Justice to alter British Labour Law, or other laws that deal with social rights. However, experts are divided on how effective this guarantee really is given that it is not legally binding. David Cameron’s proposals to renegotiate a complete opt-out from the Charter, thereby protecting trade unions from interference by the EU, goes much further than the present position adopted by the Labour Government, and is to some extent to be welcomed. However, nothing has been secured and the European Union machine is moving at full speed.
However, these are measures which ignore the fundamental changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty which paves the way for greater integration, amongst other things, creating a new position of European President, elected by the Council of Europe, strengthening the ‘democratic deficit’, eroding our national sovereignty and taking democracy away from the people.
As we know, Ireland recently successfully negotiated guarantees with the European Council in areas which were of grave concern, such as taxation policy, the right to life, education and the family, military neutrality, and the rights of workers. Just days ago the Czech Republic negotiated an opt-out agreement from the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. However, both the Irish and the Czech Republic held strong bargaining chips, on the one hand a chance at a second referendum on whether to accept the Treaty and the guarantees that went along with it, or, on the other hand, a refusal to actually ratify the Treaty until the Czech people had secured this crucial guarantee, thereby holding up the process of implementation of the Treaty. What bargaining power does David Cameron, assuming he is elected to power, have to force the hand of the EU? The answer, given by William Hague – the British rebate! Hardly something that will send shock-waves across Europe.
Although the Conservative Party may point to Germany having within its own constitution the power to override any legislation which effectively seeks to take away its sovereignty, the main difference is, is that this safeguard was already in existence prior to ratification of the Treaty whilst we – if David Cameron introduced the new Sovereignty Act - would, effectively, be applying this principle of law post-ratification. It would thereby be highly debatable whether or not such a move would be classed as illegal by the EU.
Furthermore, it only addresses the issue of any future moves to give away our sovereignty, not being retrospective, and fails to meet the concerns of the British public that as a democratic nation state we have the right to self-determination and the right to vote in a referendum which affects these fundamental rights.
The Conservative Party may have bought themselves some much needed time, but ultimately the British public will demand their right to have a referendum on the whole issue of our having any dealings with a Federal Europe at all. This patchwork, cherry-picking policy, will only go to re-establish Britain at the lower end of the political spectrum in Europe and once again create a two-tier Europe with us firmly on the bottom tier.
What was need yesterday was a leader who would have the courage of his convictions. Spouting rhetoric about wanting us to be part of an association of nation states rather than a Federal Europe and expressing his desire to protect our national sovereignty, may well be what David Cameron truly believes, but yesterday he did not have the courage to do what was necessary to achieve this; this policy will neither secure our position within this newly-born Federal European Union, nor will it address the problems that being part of a federal state of Europe will undoubtedly bring. What was needed was a leader who was brave enough to tackle the real issues on Europe and be given a clear mandate from the British public – one way or the other – in order to give credibility to any incumbent government, to make decisions on our behalf either as a part of the Federal European Union or a truly independent nation state with close associations with our European neighbours.
Yesterday, David Cameron denied us - the British public - the opportunity to have our say, and more importantly the opportunity to place us on any credible footing on the political stage - firmly in one camp or the other. Yesterday may well see us, in the words of the French European Minister, Pierre Lellouche, “disappear from the radar map” but for opposing reasons; once again, confined to the fringes, playing ‘empty chair’ politics.
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