18 June 2007

Blair's European Red Herrings

Four years ago the Government set out its non-negotiable "red lines" for the contents of the proposed EU Constitution. Today Blair merely repeats the same position asserting that he will not compromise over the same four areas at this week's EU summit:

"First, we will not accept a treaty that allows the charter of fundamental rights to change UK law in any way. Second, we will not agree to something that replaces the role of British foreign policy and our foreign minister. Thirdly, we will not agree to give up our ability to control our common law and judicial and police system. And fourthly, we will not agree to anything that moves to qualified majority voting something that can have a big say in our own tax and benefit system. We must have the right in those circumstances to determine it by unanimity."
Let's get a few facts straight. Firstly, he may well claim that his stance means there would be no need for a referendum on any treaty, but he is in no position to bind his successor, and if Europe Minister Geoff Hoon says Prime Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown could still hold a referendum on the future of the EU, then we could yet have a referendum — as indeed we should.

Secondly, two years ago, Blair gave explicit assurances to MPs in the Commons that Britain's £3 billion rebate from the European Union would remain and he would not negotiate it away, only to reverse his position just two weeks later. We eventually gave up about 20% of the rebate in the 2007-2013 seven-year budget. Now that he is even more desperate to secure a legacy beyond Iraq, we have even less reason to believe or trust him.

Finally, I think a closer inspection will reveal that at least three of his non-negotiable "red herrings lines" have already been crossed:

1. Charter of Fundamental Rights

Blair famously tried to tell us that this would have no more legal standing than The Beano, but the European Commission informed us that it would become mandatory. Its eventual status will probably be decided by judges at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, not by Britain or British politicians. The Human Rights Act already incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into English law, a move that has already required UK law to change and principles of our common law to be set aside.

2. Foreign policy

Our involvement in the Galileo satellite-navigation system has already compromised our independence on foreign policy. If the new "treaty" preserves any of the following phrases from the original Constitution that Blair approved, then we will no longer have full control over our own foreign policy or even use of our own troops: 1. "The EU shall conduct a common foreign and security policy, based on … the achievement of an ever-increasing degree of convergence of Member States' actions," "The common foreign and security policy shall be put into effect by the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs and by the Member States, using national and Union resources," and "Before taking any action on the international scene or any commitment which could affect the Union’s interests, each Member State shall consult the others within the European Council or the Council" (Article I-39). 2. "The common security and defence policy … shall provide the Union with an operational capability drawing on assets civil and military… The performance of these tasks shall be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States" (Article I-40). 3. "The Member States shall support the Union's common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity" (Article III-195).

3. Common law and judicial and police system

On common law, this is the same as his first point, on which see the note above that the Convention on Human Rights has already undermined British common law. You only need to look at any British legal decisions that have been overturned by the European courts to realise we have already lost control of our judicial system. On the police, I think Cranmer just about says it all in his post today about Europol and the EU's aspirations to police statehood.

4. Tax and benefits

Of course, a proportion of our taxes already goes to Europe, but that's not Blair's point. He is simply claiming that we will retain our veto in the tax field. Clauses from the failed Constitution to watch for in the new treaty that would signal a surrender of economic control, paving the way for the introduction of European levels of taxation on the UK, include "The Union shall take measures to ensure coordination of the economic policies of the Member States" (Articles I-14) and "The Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to attain its objectives" (Article I-53).

To conclude: Beware — It all sounds like yet more Euro-Spin on its way!

See also: Euro-Spin Update