A number of ideas being considered in European capitals would require treaty change. The President of the Commission has made proposals requiring treaty change, and the fiscal compact’s signatories hope to see the compact put into the treaties before January 2018. Europe is changing because of the eurozone crisis, and we should expect that process to include treaty change.
Does that mean that negotiations have actually commenced, and if so, when do they have to be concluded? What is the absolute deadline to meet the commitment for a referendum in 2017?
No. Clearly, negotiations have not commenced, although the Government continue at all times to work on seeking a more competitive European Union that is less regulatory, and in any such negotiation we of course want an EU that will be more accountable to national Parliaments as well. The position of the Conservative party, rather than of Her Majesty’s Government as a whole, is to implement the European Union (Referendum) Bill, which was passed in this House on Friday, and that means a referendum by the end of 2017.
It does not require treaty change to ensure that the concept of free movement is carried out on a more sensible basis. It should not be about exporting child benefit, for instance. The Prime Minister has set out changes that we can make without treaty change. However, it is possible to contemplate, as the Prime Minister has also set out, having new arrangements on free movement for countries that join the EU to slow the access to each other’s labour markets until we can be sure that it will not cause vast migration. Some of those arrangements would require treaty change.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there have been many coalition agreements in Germany—there has been one every four years for decades—that have not mentioned treaty change, but that have been followed by many changes in European treaties. Indeed, Chancellor Merkel said at a conference just last month:
“Germany is ready to develop the treaties still further.”
That is the position of Chancellor Merkel herself.
That argument can be made about any treaty in the European Union. In respect of past treaties, including those that the right hon. Gentleman negotiated, my party would say that the people of this country should have had the right to say no in a referendum. Treaty change, of course, requires unanimous approval. As he well knows, that has not stopped many treaties over the past 15 years—indeed, over the past few decades—and it will not stop treaty change in future.