Open Europe Blog

Almost entirely unnoticed by the UK media (with the exception of the Guardian), the House of Lords is doing its best to rip the heart out of the Government’s EU Bill and accompanying “referendum lock”. The Government last night suffered its third and fourth defeats on the Bill in a week, with peers voting by 242 to 209, to modify the Bill’s “sovereignty clause” and by 209 to 203 to introduce a “sunset clause”, which would see the entire Bill lapse at the end of this Parliament.

We have always felt the sovereignty clause the less important aspect of the Bill compared with the referendum lock but the latter, designed to give Parliament and voters a say over any significant future transfers of power to Brussels, has now been attacked and severely mauled by peers.

On Monday, peers voted to restrict the issues on which referendums should be held to only three: joining the euro, the creation of a “single, integrated military force”, and changes to border control. This would leave the public without a say over several important issues such as whether a future UK Government could sign up to the creation of a new European Public Prosecutor or give up arguably the UK’s most important veto of all: it’s right to veto the multi-annual EU budget.

And, in the words of Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell, these amendments completely “undermine the direct and frank and honest commitment that we wish to make to the British people…I really would suggest that the public can be trusted to determine what is in their own interest.”

As we’ve noted before, there is a certain irony in the fact that it is an unelected body, the House of Lords, which is displaying such great suspicion and hostility to giving people a greater say over their country’s relationship with the EU – and peers have given us some unintentionally hilarious quotes during the often bizarre debates on the Bill (we’ll give you a few samples shortly). But the fact that it is being allowed to do so completely under the political radar is probably even more worrying.

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