Open Europe Blog

Was Tony Blair arguing for a Charter opt out or not?
Following five years of wrangling the European Commission has finally given in to requests from the European Citizen Action Service and the European Ombudsmen and released documents concerning the UK’s negotiation position on the Charter of Fundamental Rights – you can read them here.

Were they worth the wait? Well it has been known for some time that Tony Blair’s opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights was not what it was originally billed to be. In fact  the ‘opt-out’, listed as one of Gordon Brown’s celebrated defensive “red lines” was derided at the time as a ‘Maginot line’ defence.  However these documents do shed some light on how the UK Government presented its manoeuvring to different audiences.

Tony Blair in the
House of Commons 25 June 2007:  

“It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from both the charter and judicial and home affairs. Those were the reasons why people like the right hon. Gentleman were saying that they wanted a referendum.”

Well was it an opt-out? And was Tony Blair actually arguing for one? Apparently not, according to the new documents released by the EU’s legal service. On 21 June 2007 in the privacy of the European Council the UK Government changed its mind and decided not to argue for an opt-out after all:
So was the UK arguing behind the scenes against an opt-out while in public saying it had secured one and where does that leave us now?  In the end the UK secured a clarifying protocol to the Lisbon Treaty rather than an opt-out.

The Protocol states that the Charter “does not extend” the ability of the ECJ to find that UK law is inconsistent with the rights and principles elucidated in the Charter. Indeed subsequently the Europe Minister Jim Murphy admitted: “It is clear that the UK does not have an opt-out on the Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

As we noted a while ago now, the ECJ cited the Charter extensively in its ruling to ban gender discrimination with respect to insurance, which illustrated that the Charter is very much alive.

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