I would like to make a statement on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office White Paper on the United Kingdom's approach to the European Union intergovernmental conference. The White Paper will be laid before the House today. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House, and they can also be obtained from the Vote Office. It will also be available on the FCO website.
I will publish tomorrow a written ministerial statement to accompany a Command Paper that will examine the non-IGC priorities of the Portuguese presidency for the remainder of 2007. In a meeting today in Brussels attended by the Foreign Secretary, the 27 EU member states will launch an IGC to draw up a reform treaty for the enlarged EU. We expect a first draft of the treaty text to be published at that meeting. It will be an amending treaty, which will be good for the UK and the EU, and it will be prepared on the basis of the IGC mandate agreed by the June European Council. The IGC will agree changes to the existing EC and EU treaties to make the EU's institutions more transparent, effective and efficient.
The Portuguese presidency plans to update Foreign Ministers on the progress of the IGC at its informal meeting on
The process should help bring to a close several years of debate on institutional reform, and resolve that for the foreseeable future. The proposed reform treaty will be an amending treaty based on the existing EU treaties. As paragraph 1 of the IGC mandate states:
"The constitutional concept, which consisted in repealing all existing Treaties and replacing them by a single text called 'Constitution', is abandoned."
The Government's approach to the IGC negotiations is set out in detail in today's White Paper. We want a reform treaty that provides a way for the member states of an enlarged EU to work together for mutual benefit, sets out the EU's powers and limits, ensures that foreign policy remains based on unanimity, protects national security, and gives national Parliaments a greater role in EU decision making.
The Government will not accept a treaty that transfers power from the UK on issues of fundamental importance to our sovereignty. The agreement reached at the June European Council reflects the red lines set out by the UK. At the Council, we made it clear that we wanted a treaty without constitutional characteristics, and we stated clearly that we would not accept anything in a new treaty that required us to change our existing labour and social legislation; we would protect our common law system and our police and judicial processes; we would maintain an independent foreign and defence policy; and we would protect our tax and social security system. We secured all of that in the IGC mandate. We also secured an important clarification that national security is outside the scope of the treaty: the new treaty will state explicitly that national security remains the sole responsibility of each member state.
The measures set out in the IGC mandate, which now need to be turned into treaty text, offer the prospect of an EU that is more effective, democratic, open, and streamlined. The reform treaty will help to make the EU more coherent. The presidency currently rotates every six months. Instead, a new permanent President of the European Council will serve for a period of two and a half years. Over the next two and a half years, the presidency will be held in six-monthly rotation by Portugal, Slovenia, France, the Czech Republic and Sweden. In future, the permanent presidency will help to ensure better continuity.
The reform treaty will help to make the EU better able to take decisions. The principle of qualified majority voting, established by the treaty of Rome in 1958 and substantially expanded in the Single European Act 1986, will be extended to allow decisions to be taken more easily on issues where the 27 member states can bring genuine value by acting together. The UK will retain control over issues of importance to our national sovereignty, but there are many areas where it will be in our interest to work with EU partners, and to unblock decision making to allow us to do so efficiently—such as on urgent EU aid to third countries and humanitarian support operations.
The reform treaty will also help to make the EU more effective on the global stage. The IGC mandate includes a declaration stating that nothing in the treaty affects the responsibilities and powers of member states in foreign policy. Currently the EU has two primary external-facing roles: the EU high representative for the common foreign and security policy, and the Commissioner for External Relations. The reform treaty will replace those roles with one new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. That will give the EU a clearer voice in promoting the agreed objectives that member states want to deliver around the world, without impacting on the independence of member states' foreign policies.
Additional reforms proposed in the treaty are aimed at making the EU more democratic—with a welcome and greater role for national parliaments to be involved in the work of the EU, not least in policing subsidiarity—and more streamlined, with a smaller Commission, and a reduction in the number of Members of the European Parliament. Conservative Members may be pleased to learn that the reform treaty also sets out a mechanism for withdrawal from the EU.
Despite that, Britain's place is and should remain within the EU, and this Government believe strongly that a policy of positive and active engagement in Europe over the past 10 years has yielded great benefits for the UK. EU membership brings us real gains in terms of wealth, jobs, peace and security. Around 3 million British jobs are linked directly and indirectly to our trade with other EU countries. More than half of our overseas trade is with other EU countries. Recent EU initiatives to tackle climate change and energy security have demonstrated the concrete benefits of active membership. The EU presidency statement on the Litvinenko case last week was very helpful.
By the end of the IGC process, the EU should have moved beyond the seemingly continuous conversation about institutional reform and instead be focused on tackling the delivery deficit and on the issues where the EU can make real improvements in people's lives. That includes EU co-operation in areas such as climate change, energy security, consumer protection, migration, economic reform and the fight against world poverty and international terror. On the issue of economic reform, for example, despite recent and real progress, there are 92 million economically inactive people of working age in the EU—more than the combined population of Scandinavia and all 10 of the member states who joined the EU in 2004. So it is clear that Europe has to be more effective in its delivery.
The mandate for the IGC promises to deliver a reform treaty that will achieve the UK's aims and deliver for Britain, and for Europe, the capacity to act more effectively to tackle global challenges together. We are stronger when we work together with our partners in the EU to meet the shared challenges we face. An EU of 27 member states, with the prospect of further expansion in future, needs the reform treaty. The treaty will allow us to move beyond questions of process, and focus on delivering prosperity and security for our citizens. That is firmly in the interests of the EU, and most definitely in the interests of the UK. I therefore welcome the commencement of the IGC process, and the publication of this White Paper. The result, I have no doubt, will be a treaty that is good for Britain and good for Europe, and I commend it to the House.
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I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. This White Paper is long overdue. We have before us a treaty of fundamental importance to the nature of the European Union and Britain's relationship with it. It is two years since the original EU constitution was rejected by French and Dutch voters, during which time the Government were largely notable for their silence. They have shown determination only in keeping the House and voters in the dark.
On the nature of what is set to be agreed by the intergovernmental conference, does the Minister agree with the Irish Prime Minister, who says that the new treaty is 90 per cent. the same as the constitution, or the Spanish Foreign Minister, who said yesterday that it is 98 per cent. the same? Does he agree with the Danish Prime Minister, who said that
"all the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters—the core—is left"?
Or does he agree with the German Chancellor, who said:
"The fundamentals of the Constitution have been maintained in large part"?
Even if he disagrees with the leaders of other EU countries, will the Minister confirm what members of his own Government have said about the treaty? Was not the then Foreign Secretary and current Lord Chancellor right when he said that if the treaty contained an EU President and EU Foreign Minister, it would effectively be the constitution, or does the treaty not create an EU President and an EU Foreign Minister? Was not the Trade Minister—Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham, to give him his full title—right when he said:
"This is a con to call this a treaty—it's not. It's exactly the same—it's a Constitution."
If the Minister will not take it from those two ministerial colleagues, will he take it from his own Prime Minister, who, when asked at an Anglo-Irish press conference last week what he had been discussing, replied:
"The Taoiseach and I have had a meeting this morning. We have discussed the European constitution and how that can move forward".
If even the Prime Minister can no longer keep up the pretence that the treaty is not a constitution, why is the Minister for Europe still bothering?
The Minister has pointed to one line in paragraph 1 of the IGC mandate to show that the constitutional concept is, as he put it, "abandoned". What he did not read out to the House, however, was the very next sentence, which states that the new treaty
"will introduce into the existing Treaties, which remain in force, the innovations...from the 2004 IGC, as set out below in a detailed fashion."
In other words, the constitution has essentially been brought back, but the name has just been changed. Was that not exactly the deal that the German presidency set out in its report of
"Avoiding...the symbolism and the title 'Constitution'"
"the substance of the Constitutional Treaty...should be preserved"?
The simple truth is this: the Government's main aim has been to re-label the constitution and hide how that has been done in the small print so that they can get out of their promise of a referendum. Is not that why the former Italian Prime Minister and current Home Minister said that the new treaty was "unreadable", adding that the
"UK prime minister...can go to the Commons and say, 'Look, you see, it's absolutely unreadable, it's the typical Brussels treaty, nothing new, no need for a referendum.'"
Will the Government seek changes to the IGC mandate, or do they regard the current text as inviolable? When will an English text be available, given that the treaty has been published today only in French? Will the Minister confirm that an English text will be available to the House before we rise for the summer recess?
Does the Minister accept the opinion of legal experts that the new wording on competition seriously weakens the EU's commitment to free and open competition? Should not the old wording in fact be restored?
Does the Minister share the concern that the new treaty, for the first time, potentially subordinates national Parliaments to EU institutions? Will he ensure that the wording of the relevant clause on that point is changed from "shall" to "may"? Will the Government support the Czech proposals for a new mechanism for member states to take back powers from the EU where that is appropriate?
As the IGC will be held in the summer recess, how will the House of Commons have genuine input into the process? I understand that the Foreign Affairs Committee, whose Chairman is in his place, has asked Ministers to appear before it during the recess. Has that offer been accepted and, if so, what are the dates for the scheduled hearings?
Is not the Minister just a tad concerned that the so-called red lines are falling to pieces after only a couple of weeks' scrutiny? On the first red line—the charter of fundamental rights—is the Minister worried that Advocate-General Tizzano of the European Court of Justice thinks that no legal safeguard on the charter of fundamental rights will work if it is made legally binding, as the Government have agreed? Has he seen yesterday's opinion from the Swedish Prime Minister that
"it should be stressed that the UK was given a clarification, not an opt-out."?
Why has that red line already been downgraded from covering any change to UK law in any way simply to cover existing labour and social legislation? So that line is collapsing already.
On the second red line regarding criminal justice, can the Minister explain why it will no longer be intergovernmental, but subject to the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction when the Government specifically blocked that, with our support, in the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice? Can he explain why our national veto has been downgraded to only an opt-in?
On the third red line regarding the independence of our foreign policy, does the Minister share the apparent concern of the legal adviser to the European Scrutiny Committee that, because the safeguard on foreign affairs is only a non-legally binding declaration, it may be meaningless?
On the fourth red line regarding taxation, which we have argued all along was put up as a red herring, has the Minister seen the BBC Europe editor, Mark Mardell's blog of
"The Government have the good grace to privately admit it was a bit of a con and was purely presentational."
So there are vital issues at stake, even outside of the so-called red lines themselves.
Can the Minister explain why the Government now support a single legal personality for the EU, when the then Prime Minister boasted all along that he had blocked what he called "this potentially damaging proposal" at Amsterdam? Importantly, can he confirm that the ratchet clause, which would allow further centralising treaty changes without the need for an intergovernmental conference, is still in?
In the 2004 White Paper, the Government claimed that the constitution did not fundamentally change the EU. Now, they say that the constitution would have fundamentally changed the EU, but that the new treaty does not. If Ministers now admit that they were wrong then, why should we—
You were 30 seconds ahead of me, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Almost every MP in the House stood on a manifesto that promised a referendum on the EU constitution. EU leaders, including the Prime Minister, say that the new treaty is the EU constitution. Ministers say that they want more accountability and consultation, so why will they not make themselves accountable and consult the British people? Why should the British people trust the Government, when the Government will not trust them? So we say: honour our promises, trust the people and let them decide.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind half sentence at the beginning of his comments. He asked 13 or 14 subsequent questions, and I will try to get through as many of them as time allows. Incidentally, that is more questions than there are Conservative Back Benchers here today on this important issue.
The hon. Gentleman asks what the difference is between this and the original constitution. There is a substantial set of differences, not only across the EU, but specifically here in the UK. Not only do we have the opt-in on justice and home affairs, we also have the 13 exemptions or protections on qualified majority voting. Of course, we also have the protocol on the charter of fundamental rights.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the comments of my noble Friend comrade Lord trade commissar Digby Jones. If the hon. Gentleman were to be fair, as I know that he can be, he would also share with the House the fact that the noble Lord made those comments before the IGC process while commenting on the old constitutional treaty. The hon. Gentleman talks of our attitude on the IGC process. We are not tempted to reopen issues of substance on the basis that we got a very good deal.
On competition, the hon. Gentleman asks specifics. The fact is that the legal position on competition has not been changed. The system will ensure that competition in the internal market is not distorted, and that is guaranteed in a legally binding protocol in a number of treaty references: articles 4, 27, 34, 81 to 89, 96, 98, 105 and 157 of the European Community treaty.
The hon. Gentleman asked about a BBC blog. I have not had a chance to read it—I was too busy reading the various EU articles on unfettered competition—and I have the good sense not to have my own blog.
There is a strengthened role for national Parliaments, which should be welcomed across the House, particularly in relation to the issues of subsidiarity. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that it is important that we continue to keep Parliament informed. I have attended relevant Select Committees in the House of Commons and the House of Lords on that very issue in the past week or two, and we will continue to find ways to keep Parliament informed, including by providing draft non-confidential information that arises from the IGC process. The timing of the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing is really not an issue for Ministers.
It is absolutely clear that the foreign policy situation is unchanged. It is an issue of unanimity, where the rights of member states and national Governments are protected. On the issue of justice and home affairs, we do have that opt-in. On the charter of fundamental rights, I can do no better than to quote from article 1 of the IGC mandate:
"the Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal of the United Kingdom, to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action of the United Kingdom are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that"
the charter "reaffirms."
I re-emphasise the point that we have not had referendums on previous treaties. This treaty transfers less power than Maastricht and the Single European Act. Only one member state—our good friends the Irish—is considering a referendum on the treaty. I look forward to continuing this conversation with the hon. Gentleman through the recess and beyond.
We wholeheartedly agree with the Minister's statement that the European Union brings real gains in terms of wealth, jobs, peace and security. Similarly, we agree that one of the key aims of the new treaty ought to be to ensure that the European Union is more effective, democratic, open and streamlined. However, Members on both sides of the House—whether they are for or against the European Union—will be disappointed by his reply about the way in which we will scrutinise the efforts of his Government.
Given that the Minister is making his statement today, just as the text of the treaty is being published in Brussels, and given that most of the work on the treaty will be completed before the House returns in October, how does he square that with the Foreign Secretary's statement in the House in response to Mike Gapes? The Foreign Secretary said:
"I am keen that we have extensive investigation and scrutiny of the mandate and then of the reform treaty when it finally comes forward as a treaty". —[ Hansard, 3 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 801.]
Does the Minister accept that if he does not allow adequate scrutiny as this stage by this national Parliament, he risks undermining one of the key principles of the new treaty before it is even established?
In response to the pretty fair point that the hon. Gentleman makes, the fact is that the treaty envisages a much enhanced role for national Parliaments—interestingly both for the House of Commons and the other place. So, as he says, it is important that we continue to find ways to maintain that dialogue in Parliament and with Parliament's Select Committees. That is why both the Foreign Secretary and I have accepted the kind invitation of my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to appear before his Committee at a time of its choosing, rather than our choosing. At least some of that will happen during the parliamentary recess. Of course, we remain available to discuss the issues with other Select Committees and we continue to seek opportunities to discuss the issues with Front Benchers and Back Benchers of all parties. I am meeting Mr. Francois, who speaks for the Conservatives on this issue, on Wednesday, and Mr. Moore, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on this issue, tomorrow. I look forward to continued opportunities to discuss, bilaterally and with the Select Committees, ways of continuing to inform the House.
Several hon. Members:
The Minister has confirmed that the constitutional concept has been abandoned, and I welcome that. However, I ask that when he appears before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which I hope will be a few days after the meeting on
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I can think of no better way of spending the parliamentary recess than appearing before him and his Committee. My hon. Friend is right to mention the opportunities that result from having a co-operative approach with our European partners on defence, foreign policy and many other matters. I once again reassure my hon. Friend and others that the UK has a veto on foreign policy. That is entirely appropriate. Where we agree with our European partners, we can act together, but where we continue to disagree, we can of course act alone, if we so wish.
Will the Minister comment on the notorious new division of competences, or powers, in the draft constitution, whereby the EU gains exclusive power over commercial and competition policy, and whereby most other policy areas are defined in a way that prevents national Parliaments from legislating when the EU decides to do so? That was controversial at the time, and it was in large measure opposed by the Government in unsuccessful amendments, so why has the Minister apparently given up on that matter, and why is he waving it through? Will he attempt to get those powers back through amendments tabled at the intergovernmental conference?
We do not intend to table substantive changes to the IGC treaty agreement. I have already made it clear that European competitiveness and free and unfettered competition will be protected as part of a binding protocol on competition. On the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the charter of fundamental rights, the UK's position on the protocol aligned with that is clear.
I warmly welcome the statement and thank the Minister and his predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr. Hoon, for the work that was done on
It was remiss of me not to pay a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr. Hoon, the former Minister for Europe, for his work in that role at the outset; it is possibly more important to do so now that he is Government Chief Whip. I also wish to pay my respects to the work of my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, who was also a former Minister for Europe. He did an enormous amount of work in trying to destroy some of the myths around the issue of Europe and the European Union. I do not wish to pick on Mr. Mark Mardell, but any advice that anyone in the House can give to provide an accurate picture of the real benefit of the European Union to the United Kingdom is welcome. For example, it has meant 3 million jobs, co-operation on environmental issues, clean water, cleaner beaches, cleaner air—those are the real and substantive improvements and changes that the EU can deliver.
The Minister honourably maintains that the treaty is completely different from the constitutional treaty, even though no European Government, and no other sentient being, agrees with his point of view. Nevertheless, for old time's sake, will he remind us what the last Labour manifesto said about the European constitution and a referendum?
As I said at the outset, the constitutional concept has been abandoned. There is a radical difference between the reform treaty and the prior constitutional treaty. The real test, as we look around Europe, is how many of the other 27 member states of the European Union are even contemplating holding a referendum—just one, our great friends, the Irish, simply because of their specific constitutional arrangement and the nature of their Parliament. In the United Kingdom we have a different parliamentary and constitutional arrangement from that of our good friends in Ireland.
My hon. Friend will know that because of a number of imposed majority votes within the Community and particularly within the Commission, Britain is losing control over its safety audit in aviation and engineering, and in relation to our ports and to single skies. Will he therefore propose that the House creates a safety audit to look closely at any aspect of European institutions, however they are framed and however they are imposed?
My hon. Friend raises important points, and I look forward to discussing them with her, if she so wishes. There is an extension of qualified majority voting but much of it is minor and technical, and much of it is to re-establish existing practice—for example, qualified majority voting on the technicalities of German reunification. That is important. There are other examples of qualified majority voting on international aid and humanitarian support, but on the specific issue that my hon. Friend raises, I am happy to meet her and other hon. Friends before the parliamentary recess, if time in her diary allows.
Does the Minister accept that he has a fight on his hands, and that this dishonest treaty is one of constitutional change? It may not be exactly the same as the constitutional treaty that came before, but it is equivalent, and that is the important fact. When he next comes before the European Scrutiny Committee, will he bring the Foreign Office legal adviser so that we can ask him questions that the Minister cannot answer?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind and gallant comments, which are never knowingly understated. I can put my response no more clearly than by quoting Mr. Clarke, who chairs the Conservatives' democracy taskforce, who said:
"The idea we have a referendum is frankly absurd."
I can think of no more appropriate response to the comments of the hon. Gentleman.
I warmly welcome the Conservatives' approach, because their obsessive Europhobia is a guarantee of third place results in elections to come. Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposed reform treaty creates a president of the European council of nations which the European Commission opposed because it gives more power to the nations of Europe, that foreign policy remains under the control of the nations of Europe, and that the Parliaments of the nations of Europe will have more power, so the treaty is one of the weakest since 1957? We might as well have a referendum on the results in Ealing, Southall and in Sedgefield, which were good for the country. Holding a referendum on the treaty is a plain absurdity.
My right hon. Friend is right. The treaty transfers much less power than the Single European Act or the treaty of Maastricht. Of course, all the Opposition Members who were in government at the time voted against a referendum on Maastricht, which was much more significant in its transfer of powers. It seems to many objective observers that the Conservative party of today is captured by a rabid anti-Euro fanaticism that is fantastic in its proportion and out of touch with reality.
The Minister cannot but be aware of the growing disenchantment that exists regarding the ever-expanding EU. He declares that the treaty is not a revised constitution. Others beg to differ. Is not the simplest way to resolve that conflict to let the people of the United Kingdom decide by way of referendum?
Europe plays an enormous role in supporting the economy of Northern Ireland. Although the issue of cross-border co-operation is, of course, part of the constitutional settlement between north and south, we are not attracted to the level of co-operation to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded by following the Republic of Ireland in being the only other member state of the EU to sign up to having a referendum.
Will the Minister eschew the seductive suggestion of Mr. Francois to remove the word "shall" from provisions on democratic principles and replace it with the word "may"? He will be aware that the particular provision covers subsidiarity, proportionality, freedom, security, justice, treaty revision and inter-parliamentary co-operation, all subjects that are of some interest to every Member of this House.
My hon. Friend is right. That is why we are not reopening the issues of great substance in conversation with our European colleagues. Nevertheless, we continue to examine the precise wording of draft treaties, and I will return to the House and to my hon. Friend with the specifics in the weeks and months ahead.
Do Her Majesty's Government support the inclusion in the reform treaty of a new mechanism for withdrawal from the European Union, and how would that mechanism work?
We support the inclusion of that specific clause in the treaty. The way to bring about that outcome is to vote for either the Conservative party or the UK Independence party at the next general election. On Europe, it is sometimes difficult to work out the difference between those two parties.
I welcome the general direction outlined by the Minister and hope that the IGC meets with success. Does he agree that whether or not there is a referendum in due course—in the past 10 years under the previous premiership, the pro-European forces across parties and outside politics have on more than one occasion been marched up to the top of the hill in anticipation of something only to be marched down again—the Government need to get on the front foot, to take a broadly based proactive stance about constructive, sensible engagement in Europe and to isolate the extremist voices for what they are?
The right hon. Gentleman is correct. Europe is an enormous influence for good in the United Kingdom. In terms of economics, 3 million jobs rely on trade with the European Union. On co-operation and trying to create a stronger force positively to put the case for Europe, I look forward to any ideas that the right hon. Gentleman may have on the specifics.
How confident is the Minister that a line can be drawn under constant institutional change once the reform treaty is agreed, given that some of our European partners are far more passionate about continual institutional change than the UK?
We live in hope that the endless cycle of conversation about continuous structural change can come to an end as a consequence of the agreement of this treaty. Enormous issues and challenges lie ahead for the European Union, and I am determined—the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are absolutely determined—to move Europe away from the constant introversion of looking at the important detail of structures and on to the issues that really matter to my hon. Friend's constituents in Ayrshire and people across the United Kingdom.
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the Minister's support for the extension of the powers of national Parliaments. Will the Minister take that one stage further and explain throughout the country that parliamentary sovereignty means that we vote in this House about these matters, as the noble Baroness Thatcher said in debating the whole issue of the single market, and that in this country we do not take the foreign concept of a referendum?
Although I rarely agree with the noble Baroness Thatcher, I nevertheless agree with the right hon. Gentleman's observation. I hope that Conservative Front Benchers and Conservative Members around him—he is in a minority of perhaps two or three—listen to his wise and candid advice.
In welcoming the White Paper, which has much to commend it, I am intrigued by the four UK Government pre-conditions listed in chapter 3, including the
"protection of the UK's common law system,"
which is a sloppy and embarrassing drafting error that will find no friends in the Scots legal system. May I draw the Minister's attention to concerns in Scotland about the previous draft constitution and the inclusion of the common fisheries policy as an exclusive competence? Will he continue the recent discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments to ensure the appropriate IGC conclusions for all the nations of the UK and the European Union?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, because, as he knows, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with the devolved Administrations to ensure that, where possible, we have a coherent approach across the United Kingdom. I look forward to discussing the precise details with him.
I shall be campaigning strongly for a referendum and believe that my view is shared by millions of Labour supporters and trade unionists throughout Britain. My hon. Friend has talked about making the European Union more transparent and more democratic, yet the European Council meets in secret, has no minutes and simply adopts conclusions drawn up by bureaucrats. Is my hon. Friend going to try to make the European Council more democratic?
I could not hear every detail of my hon. Friend's comments, such is the attraction of our conversation about the European treaty—this statement is so popular, that the House is becoming busier with every passing question. I look forward to continuing the dialogue and have not given up all hope of convincing my hon. Friend of the error of his ways.
Given the importance of the red lines to the whole country, will this different Government go to the IGC and say that this country must have an unambiguous veto written in on all those issues, because, as the Minister knows, that is the only way in which to protect those positions?
As I have said, we will not accept any important transfer of sovereignty away from the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum on Maastricht, which was much more substantial than this treaty. I can do no more than quote him:
"If we sign the Amsterdam Treaty, we will abolish our country."
He was wrong then, and he is wrong now.
May I ask the Minister again about the charter of fundamental rights? Ten days ago, Margot Wallström, the vice-president of the European Commission, appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee, where on our opt-out on the charter of fundamental rights she said:
"normally the opt-outs are respected—but I will not prejudge or speculate on what the Court of Justice will decide on fundamental rights and how this is applied throughout the European Union."
If the Commission itself does not think that the opt-out is watertight, will he tell us why he does?
There is a straightforward answer to that. It is called the IGC mandate, article 1 of which states:
"the Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal of the United Kingdom, to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action of the United Kingdom are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that it reaffirms."
In my three weeks in this job, I have learned an entirely new vocabulary—some would say a different language—but the important protections and rights that the UK enjoys are very clear in any language.