January 20, 2011
Earlier today, the Government released a statement setting out what it intends to do on the Justice and Home Affairs ‘opt-ins’ and the crucial 2014 choice between more or less EU control (see here, here, here and here for more from us on this).
On the ‘opt-ins’ the Government seems determined not to include any language in the actual EU Bill that would require it to get Parliamentary approval before it can opt in to a new EU law in crime, policing and immigration. Instead, it says that this should be addressed separately with the details to be decided at a later stage. Crucially, only the proposals generating a “particularly strong” interest could, possibly, be put to Parliament. In the Government’s words:
in circumstances where there is particularly strong Parliamentary interest in the Government’s decision on whether or not to opt in to such a measure, the Government expresses its willingness to set aside Government time for a debate in both Houses on the basis of a motion on the Government’s recommended approach on the opt-in.
From the looks of it, this is not a strong enough safeguard. The big question is who decides what counts as “particularly strong” interest. We remain convinced that in order to avoid situations where future EU proposals in Justice and Home Affairs are debated at the convenience of the Government (which is the case at the moment), all opt ins should be subject to Parliamentary approval (there are pragmatic ways to deal with minor proposals, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater).
On the crucial 2014 choice, the Government clearly commits to putting this to a vote in both Houses. This is encouraging, though again, they should put that into writing in the EU Bill, so that it would be beyond doubt. A political agreement/commitment can be altered, which we all know too well when it comes to EU matters. The statement reads:
Parliament should have the right to give its view on a decision of such importance. The Government therefore commits to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it makes a formal decision on whether it wishes to opt-out. The Government will conduct further consultations on the arrangements for this vote, in particular with the European Scrutiny Committees, and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees and a further announcement will be made in due course.
In other words, there’s much to play for here. Are MPs paying attention?