April 16, 2010
Although Europe has been seemingly neutralised as an election issue, and the main political parties have reached a rather settled position on the Lisbon Treaty, it does not give them license to play fast and loose with the facts of what the Treaty means for the UK.
Having been inspired by the great idea behind the Channel 4 Fact Check blog, we decided to try and apply some of that diligence to recent comments by Gordon Brown about why Labour reneged on the promise in its 2005 manifesto to hold a referendum. Answering questions from readers of the Yorkshire Post (around 6 minutes into the video) he said:
“Have people really seen a huge difference in the relationship between us and Europe over the last few weeks? The reason we did not have a referendum on this is that there was no major constitutional issue that had to be dealt with. They abandoned the concept of a constitutional treaty. They actually specifically said, the European Union, that it was abandoning that idea and then they went to what is a more modest treaty, the Lisbon Treaty, where all what we called our ‘red lines’, that is no interference with social security or national security, we got what we wanted on policing and justice, we got what we wanted on economic development, we got the freedom to continue to have our own foreign policy – none of these things were affected.”
Quite a lot of total misrepresentation there, so we will do our best to debunk some of those fallacies.
- Despite repeating his argument that the Lisbon Treaty was vastly different from the European Constitution, and therefore no referendum would be required, everyone and sundry has admitted that they are essentially the same document (as well as the PM himself). We did the side-by-side comparison proving that they were practically identical. Valery Giscard d’Estaing, author of the original Constitution, said that it still contained “all the earlier proposals” of the Constitution would be maintained in the Lisbon Treaty, even if they had to be “hidden” or “disguised“. Straight-talking German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it a little more bluntly: “The substance of the Constitution is preserved. That is a fact.”
- The Government’s red lines were an absolute myth. See our research on how they crumbled, one after the other.
- Not only did the Charter of Fundamental Rights become legally binding (Tony Blair said it wouldn’t), but the Government most certainly did not get what they wanted on policing and crime. They wanted that entire policy area excluded from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but failed miserably, as well as arguing unsuccessfully for retention of unanimity in decision-making in this area. They also opposed the European Public Prosecutor, new powers for Eurojust to initiate criminal investigations, and powers for the EU to set minimum sentences…all unsuccessfully however. Only someone who has never, ever got what they asked for could attempt to spin this as ‘getting everything we wanted’.
- Perhaps the EU’s increased power in justice areas is what led the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge to warn a few weeks ago, “The Treaty of Lisbon has brought criminal justice matters to the core of the EU and with it the jurisdiction of the Luxembourg court.” This means that if the UK does opt into the new justice and home affairs legislation,
decisions of the Luxembourg court on issues arising out of the Treaty of Lisbon, even to the extent that they involve criminal matters, would become binding on all of us… The development of the European Union, and the extended jurisdiction of the European court in criminal matters, will have a significant impact domestically. Twenty years down the line where will we be?
No change, eh?
- Also on foreign policy, despite promising that it wouldn’t be moved into qualified majority voting, this details in just how many areas of foreign policy the Government gave up their veto.
- As for the question of social security, read this research to see that there was no new ‘red line’ on the question of social security in relation to the Lisbon Treaty, compared with the original negotiations on the Constitutional Treaty.
Another real hum-dinger came when he said this in conclusion:
“But no constitutional concept was involved. There was no major constitutional or institutional change because of the Treaty, and I think everybody knows, because they haven’t seen this huge difference between what happened at the end of last year and what’s happening at the beginning of this year.”
To suggest that the Lisbon Treaty was not a major institutional change is, of course, absolutely ridiculous and suggests that the Prime Minister has little idea of exactly what competences have been transferred to Brussels with the ratification of the Treaty.
For a comprehensive guide of what powers the Lisbon Treaty gave to the EU see our reseach here.
Moreover, some of the improvements that were promised (increased powers to deal with crucial issues such as climate change, or more scrutiny for national parliaments) have been well and truly debunked in the last couple of months since Lisbon came into force.
The scrutiny promised to Parliament over EU proposals has collapsed on various occasions (see here and here) and the EU was widely viewed as having been sidelined at the Copenhagen climate change conference.
Sadly, they may get away with not talking about it, but Labour’s failure to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty amounts to a clear and unequivocal broken manifesto promise. To argue otherwise is a direct insult to democracy in general and British voters in particular.Open Europe blog team