December 9, 2010
Tuesday night saw the Coalition government’s EU Bill sailing through a second reading in Parliament, without a vote. In truth, it wasn’t all plain sailing as several MPs – from across the aisle – fired at the Bill with various degrees of ferociousness. “Legislative PR”, “flawed”, “smoke and mirrors” and “missing the point” were some of the comments.
Valid points were raised – though as we’ve argued before, the referendum lock is a meaningful measure that will make it more difficult for ministers to transfer power to Brussels in future (true, it doesn’t deal with the mission creep of the ECJ, or with cases when EU law is blatantly broken i.e. the eurozone bail-out, or with the existing balance of power between the UK and the EU, which many feel is unacceptable).
The Foreign Secretary did disappoint on one point, however. Conservative MP James Clappison asked whether the Foreign Secretary would give “serious consideration” to the question of requiring a vote in Parliament before the Government opts in to new EU laws in the Justice and Home Affairs area – which Open Europe has argued strongly in favour of, as it would in effect roll back some of the powers given away to EU judges and MEPs under the Lisbon Treaty.
However, the Foreign Secretary answered that the decision to opt-in belongs to a “different category” and argued that
given the strict time limits which apply to the UK’s decision to exercise an opt-in – which is within three months of the receipt of a proposal – and the fact that there are 30 to 40 proposals per annum, it is not possible to place a primary legislative lock or parliamentary resolution requirement on the exercise of the opt in.
This isn’t a strong justification at all for leaving out such a provision. William Hague seems to argue that ‘there is so much being agreed in the EU and as a government we need time to consider it all’. But this isn’t an argument against giving Parliament ex ante control over this area – on the contrary, it’s a strong argument in favour of it! Precisely because that is the case, we need more democratic control.
Also, a resolution of approval is not a time-consuming measure in Parliament. Motions can be agreed after a relatively short, single debate. In fact, the Irish Parliament must pass a resolution before its Government can opt in to anything, so it seems strange that this wouldn’t be possible in the UK.
What puzzles us is why not more MPs aren’t passionately pushing this line?Open Europe blog team