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European Union Bill

Part of Safe Standing (Football Stadia) – in the House of Commons at 9:13 pm on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 9:13 pm, 7th December 2010

The significance of the Bill cannot be ignored. I say that following the disgraceful way in which the previous Government and Members on the now-empty Opposition Benches denied the British public a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I desperately hope that this Bill will reassure my constituents and the rest of the British public that that will never happen again. I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on bringing forward the Bill in the Government's first year in office. It has been a long time coming, and it is a positive step in the right direction. However, a number areas in the Bill need to be strengthened to defend the interests of the British and truly guarantee the sovereignty of this nation. We have already heard some of the arguments on that this afternoon.

The Bill needs more clarity over exactly what transfer of powers would trigger a referendum. It needs to go further in guaranteeing our red lines and in demonstrating a full commitment to repatriating powers from Brussels. It also needs to enhance the transparency and accountability of anything that involves the EU. As it stands, there is considerable uncertainty about how the Bill will function in practice.

I would like greater clarity in the exemptions referred to in clause 2 and the significant condition mentioned in clause 3. Clearly those provisions offer a Minister what I call a get-out-of-referendum-free card. I do not believe that any Conservative Minister in the current Government would seek to pull the wool over the eyes of this Parliament and the British public by abusing that clause. However, let us not forget that it was not so long ago that this country had a pro-European Government who were blinded so much by the taxpayer-funded propaganda of the European project that they neglected the British interest.

Under the previous Government, the rebate was sacrificed and power was scandalously surrendered under the Lisbon treaty. Even with the referendum lock outlined in the Bill, it remains possible for a future Government to hand more powers over to Brussels through the back door. Clause 3 states that an Act could be passed by Parliament-thereby bypassing the need for a referendum -by stating that the transfer of powers was "not significant" in its impact on the United Kingdom. That is a highly subjective test that would be based on the recommendation of Ministers.

Some of the EU's areas of exclusive competence and shared competence are so worryingly generic that it would be a legal minefield to asses which policies may require a referendum. We have already seen the controversy over the European investigation order. On justice and home affairs, we may be guaranteed a referendum on the establishment of the European public prosecutor, but there is no such commitment given on the actions that Eurojust could take.

What would happen if a future Government decided to give up the 12 and 6-mile fishery limits? Under the Lisbon treaty, the EU already has competence for fisheries and marine biological resources. If proposals come forward from the Commission to remove or amend the controls that Britain can currently exercise within those limits, that could be done without the British public having a vote. Our fishing communities would be left devastated if the regulation was revised to remove the limits. However, there is no guarantee that the limits would be protected by the referendum lock.

It is also possible that, over the course of a Parliament, a Government could transfer a number of powers that individually may not be perceived as being significant enough to warrant a referendum but that, taken as a whole, could be highly significant over a period of time.