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EU: UK Settlement

Volume 773: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the European Council decision of 19 February is legally binding on the Court of Justice and the European Parliament before the European Union treaties are changed to reflect it, and when they expect that change to take place.

My Lords, the international law decision contains legally binding and irreversible provisions specifying how certain articles in EU treaties should be interpreted. That interpretation will apply to all EU institutions, including the European Parliament. The Court of Justice confirmed that it is required to take such decisions into account when interpreting the treaties. The decision includes a commitment that the member states will, at the next opportunity, amend the treaties to address key UK concerns.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer but she appears to forget the 1992 European Council in Edinburgh, which decided that national citizenship was superior to the new EU citizenship that had just been agreed at Maastricht. However, the Court of Justice overturned that, having merely taken it into account. How is the Prime Minister’s deal anything approaching the root-and-branch reform of the EU that he promised in his Bloomberg speech? If the Minister cannot say, is it honest of the Government to pretend that this deal justifies our staying in a wholly unreformed and clearly failing European Union? I ask the noble Baroness yet again: why do the Government want us to stay on the “Titanic”?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister successfully renegotiated a deal that is better for the UK than any before and means that we are stronger, better off, and safer within the European Union. He made sure that the agreement provided that we are protected by international law which means that this will be put into effect. That means we are in a better position than ever before. It is right that when those who go to vote make their minds up they bear all that in mind. I do not tell them how to vote. I certainly hope they will consider the facts carefully before they do so.

Can my noble friend confirm that there are no circumstances similar to the one that the noble Lord raised, in which the European Court of Justice has overturned a decision taken by the European Council? Can she further confirm that in the package negotiated by the Prime Minister is something called the red card system, which substantially enhances the roles of national Parliaments in the whole legislative procedure of the European Union?

Will the noble Baroness confirm that if the British people decide to leave the European Union none of the provisions agreed on 19 February will prevail and, until our membership is finished after the negotiations over our exit route, none of the aspects in the deal will apply?

My Lords, I can confirm that. It has been made clear that the agreements reached by my right honourable friend take effect only if there is a vote to remain in the European Union in just a couple of weeks and one day. If the country decides that it prefers that the UK should leave the European Union, one then invokes Article 50 and we go through that process.

My Lords, I am sorry to have to get up again. I think it is the turn of the Lib Dem Benches, having not heard from them. Then we can come back to the Conservative Benches.

Does the Minister agree that the February decision of the heads of state and government—not of the European Council—and indeed our future in the EU, has a degree of clarity and certainty which shines out, compared with the sketchy and shifting scenarios that we hear from the Brexiteers, whose model is based variously on Norway, Canada or Albania, depending on the speaker, the day or the hour?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point to the fact that the deal is indeed in international law and therefore its terms are certain, and that, at the moment, those who wish to reject that deal have not set out the alternatives.

My Lords, in addition to the legal point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is there not a question of logic? Is it really possible to contemplate a genuine single market with one country having its own currency? If we stay in the European Union, is it not the case that ultimately we will be forced into the single currency?

My Lords, no, part of the agreement is that there is a protection for the United Kingdom to retain a veto to remain outside the eurozone.

Is it not the case that so long as we remain in the European Union we will continue to have a veto on any potential applications to join, including if Turkey were to make such an application, because enlargement is a matter for unanimity under the treaty? Is it not also the case that, for exactly the same reason, we would continue to have a veto on any increase in the EU budget? Is it not therefore the case that in saying precisely the opposite to those two things over the last few days the Brexit campaign has once again—sad as it is to have to use the word—told lies to the British public?

My Lords, I do not say that those who present an inaccurate description are telling falsehoods. I follow my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in saying that perhaps they simply do not have quite as much direct experience of the EU as he has had as Prime Minister. Unusual though it may be for me to agree so wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I have to say that he is right.