European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 6 May 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 6:45, 6 May 2008

If we get into the acquis communautaire, we could be here for a very long time. I was trying to make the point that there is a legal effect in treaties, UN Security Council decisions, and decisions that come under common foreign and security policy. The legal effect is that they bind us, which is why we sign them. We do not have to, but if we choose to do so, we are bound by them. The long tradition—long before the EU, going back centuries—has been that if new Governments want to renegotiate that is their choice, but they are bound by the treaties when they come into power. No one has yet said anything to suggest that I am wrong in that. That is the way it has been, and that is the way it is.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will know that there is an opportunity to renegotiate on the back of an election, with a manifesto in which specific things have been stated—for example, withdrawal from the European Union, which would be UKIP's manifesto. If that party were elected, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, were he Prime Minister, could seek to renegotiate. Under this treaty, of course, the opportunity exists to leave the European Union in a measured way—and I notice that the noble Lord has tabled an amendment to oppose that, although I am sure that it is not really for that. There is nothing to stop member states doing so. The point I am making is very straightforward. I am going to move on.

Amendment No. 15A talks about the laying of a statement. I have already explained—Members of the Committee accept the point or they do not—that there is nothing in the treaty which restricts the freedom of Her Majesty's Government to act in the interests of the United Kingdom. The treaty does not change in any way the intergovernmental and consensus-based nature of common foreign and security policy. Member states are bound only where they have agreed policy in accordance with the provisions of the treaty. Agreement on CFSP remains by unanimity, and we will agree to it only where it is in our national interest. I therefore see no need to provide the undertaking that is requested in the amendment.

Amendment No. 111, to which the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, spoke, appears to take as its premise the idea that the Lisbon treaty will undermine the independence of our UK foreign policy. Indeed, I think that that is probably the noble Lord's position. It is clear that in the treaty the Government have successfully argued that the CFSP remains subject to rules and procedures that safeguard its separate character. Decision-making is on the basis of unanimity. It is a non-legislative policy area and the European Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction except in the two specific limited areas: first, the boundary between that and other policies; and, secondly, that were there sanctions against the individual, the individual would have the right to go to the European Court of Justice. These can all be found in Article 24 of the treaty of the European Union.

In another place, the Foreign Affairs Committee said that the,

"Common Foreign and Security Policy will remain an intergovernmental area, driven by Member States. We welcome this".

Our own Select Committee, which is much quoted with great respect, says:

"The evidence is that the Lisbon Treaty has preserved the independence of the UK's foreign and defence policy, subject to the constraints arising when unanimous agreement does prove possible. The fundamental principles of the CFSP will not change under the new Treaties. In particular, the principle of unanimity and the search for consensus in decision-making will continue to apply to the CFSP ... We conclude"— the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, was one of the "we"—

"that the Lisbon Treaty will provide for safeguards against encroachment of other areas of EU activities into the area of CFSP. This should protect the intergovernmental character of the CFSP".

Indeed, Javier Solana, in my conversations with him in Brussels, was clear to me that the intergovernmental nature would not be undermined in any way shape or form by the treaty.

On the ability to represent views at the United Nations, again the treaty is clear. The high representative for foreign affairs and security policy will be able to put forward agreed EU positions, but there is nothing new in that. The rotating presidency and the current high representative already present agreed EU positions to the Council. It is clearly in our interests that when we have agreed an EU position, we make it clear to interested parties, of which the UN Security Council would be one, that it has the backing of all 27 member states. But that has not and will not change our role and responsibility at the UN as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. That is made explicit in the treaty at Article 34 TEU, and underlined in Declaration 14 of the treaty, which I shall not repeat.

I turn to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. We look forward to further discussion on whether passerelles could lead to QMV in foreign policy. The condition that would have to be met under the treaty for that would be that all 27 member states decided to do it. In addition, both Houses of Parliament in this country would have to agree it. Each House has a veto. Any decision to trigger the passerelle provision which allows moves to QMV in common foreign and security policy—