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EU Treaties

Volume 518: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2010

I refer my hon. Friend to the Prime Minister’s statement on the European Council on 1 November. The Council agreed that Herman Van Rompuy should consult member states about a limited treaty change connected with the establishment of a permanent crisis resolution mechanism for the eurozone. We also secured a clear agreement that any such treaty change, should it occur, would not affect the United Kingdom.

It is said that the eurozone needs a new treaty to make it lawful to bail out Greece. It is claimed that that will not affect the United Kingdom as we are not part of the eurozone. Will the Minister confirm that the UK will not need to sign the treaty or, if we do, that the public will be given a referendum on the issue?

It is my long-standing position—and, I think, that of my hon. Friend—that any treaty that transfers new areas of power or competence to the European Union should be subject to a referendum. Clearly, there are still consultations about what form a treaty change might take. It is clear beyond doubt that the United Kingdom will continue to be exempt from any sanctions under the stability and growth pact and we established at the last Council that any possible future treaty change would not affect the United Kingdom and would not transfer power or competence from the UK to the European Union.

Given the promises made in the Conservative party manifesto, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether the Government will be bringing forward proposals to repatriate powers from the European Union? Yes or no?

The Government’s position is set out in the coalition agreement. What is also clear from that agreement is that one of our top priorities in Europe is to bring realism to budgeting in the European Union since the hon. Gentleman’s party gave away many billions of pounds of the British taxpayer’s money for nothing in return the last time the financial perspective was negotiated, in 2005. The answer to his question is that our top priority in seeking change in the European Union is to ensure realistic budgeting in the future.

Now that the German Chancellor is insisting on the amendment of European treaties, including Lisbon, will there ever be a better opportunity for Britain to renegotiate its relationships with the European Union and seek the repatriation of powers abandoned by previous Governments, or is that vetoed by the Lib Dem members of the coalition?

It is certainly a coalition Government that we have here and my hon. Friend should bear that in mind. I would also ask him to bear in mind that instability in the eurozone, as he well knows, is a serious danger to the British economy. It is clear that the United Kingdom will be exempt from the provisions of any such treaty change. Where we have considerable negotiating leverage in the European Union, as we certainly will over the coming years, our first priority—as I said in answer to the previous question—is to change the way in which the budgets are determined so that, unlike the previous Government, we are not involved in spending billions of pounds extra of the UK taxpayer’s money.

May I congratulate those on the Government Front Bench, and the Foreign Secretary in particular, on their new flexible approach on this issue? I understand that the new treaty change would happen under the passerelle clause. Clearly, the non-euro-using members of the EU—Poland, ourselves, Denmark and Sweden—and our officials and Ministers will be involved in this discussion, and there will be a small transfer of competences. I thoroughly welcome this and congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his new Europe-friendly approach.

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman agrees with an approach that involves not joining the euro, transferring no more powers or competences to the European Union, making sure that this country will have a referendum if any future Government ever propose doing such a thing, and bringing the European budget under control—all things that he has never agreed with before and which his Government never did.