EU Treaty Opt-outs

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 3 July 2007.

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Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Europe) 2:30, 3 July 2007

what advice he has received on the legal status of the opt-outs from the proposed EU treaty.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

I refer the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister's post-European Council statement to the House on 25 June this year. The Government received legal advice from the Government lawyers on all aspects of the IGC mandate.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Europe)

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, although I think it regrettable, given the important negotiations that lie ahead, that the new Prime Minister has downgraded his post by not allowing him to attend Cabinet, which his two predecessors did. May I draw his attention to the comments of the legal adviser to the European Scrutiny Committee, Mr. Michael Carpenter, who said that the declaration on foreign affairs might turn out to be completely meaningless, and who went on to cast doubt on all the other opt-outs on the so-called red lines? Given that the whole case made by the then Prime Minister as to why we were not going to have a referendum was based on those opt-outs on his so-called red lines, has that not been shown to be completely and utterly worthless?

I

Just to let you know that Mr. Michael Carpenter's Wikipedia reference at this page leads to a US pornographic films director Michael Carpenter. Bests, Ivan

Submitted by Ivan Kytka

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

Not at all. However, I begin by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his kind words of welcome to this important job. I also thank him for championing my cause; my mother will be pleased. The hon. Gentleman's specific points are, of course, unfounded, as were the points made by Mr. Hague. The treaty explicitly confirms for the first time that national security is the sole responsibility of member states. Where we agree, and where we agree unanimously, we will work together, but where we disagree, we will, of course, continue to act independently.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

The charter of fundamental rights, which is closely associated with the treaty, declares that every worker has the right to the limitation of maximum working hours. Does the Minister believe that that will leave Britain's existing opt-out open to challenge at the European Court of Justice, and if it does, how vigorously will he defend it?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

I thank my hon. Friend for his warm welcoming of me to my new role. In terms of his specific point, I do not agree with him. This does not affect our opt-out in any way. The former Prime Minister made it very clear that one of our red lines is that our existing labour and social legislation would not be affected by this part of the reform treaty, and that is very clear in the outcome of the deliberations.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

It is quite clear that declarations, protocols, emergency brakes and opt-ins have been tried in the past and have failed; they cannot be relied on. The only thing that works is a veto. Why does the Minister not say that this is going to be a new Government and use the IGC to put the vetoes back—the only sure way of defending the red lines?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

The right hon. Gentleman has a long record of being wrong on European issues. He voted against the previous referendum proposals. When we look at the difference between the reform treaty and the constitutional treaty, we see that out has come automatic qualified majority voting for policing and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, out has come any suggestion of a binding charter of fundamental rights, out has come the weak emergency brake on social security measures, and out has come possible communal decision making for foreign and defence policy. Much has changed, but the right hon. Gentleman's decades-long, strident opposition to the UK's membership of the European Union still remains.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General, Shadow Minister (Europe)

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman's mother and welcome him to his new and important role? In that role, does he agree with his ministerial colleague, Sir Digby Jones, who recently told the Economic Research Council:

"This is a con to call this a treaty—it's not. It's exactly the same—it's a constitution"?

Was not the new Trade and Investment Minister exactly right?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. We have always had a very good and friendly relationship, particularly in European Standing Committees A, B and C, but I do not agree with his comments. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made it clear that, as it says loud and clear in the reform treaty, the "constitutional concept...is abandoned".