Amendment 2

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 10:45 am on 6th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 10:45 am, 6th September 2019

I had not intended to follow my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup’s remarks because he included in them an invitation to some EU constitutional experts. I absolutely do not aspire to the status of an EU constitutional expert, but what he said was absolutely correct. There are two possible statuses: one is the that of a member of the European Union, the other that of a former member. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, is absolutely right that there is no provision in Article 50 for qualitative conditions on an extension. Temporal conditions—the length of the extension—are possible. That is what we are talking about.

The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, about the European Council decision refers to the treaty rights and responsibilities of a member, one of which is the duty of loyal co-operation. That is set out in the treaty. It would not be possible to withdraw treaty rights by European Council decision. The only way to change treaty rights is by amending the treaty, which requires unanimity, and while we are members we would presumably not vote to limit our treaty rights.

The language in the decision referred to by the noble Baroness relates to the contingency, which sadly has now arisen, that the United Kingdom is not present and voting in all committees and regulatory organisations of the European Union. The United Kingdom has voluntarily decided not to exercise some of its treaty rights. Some of these organisations operate by unanimity. If there is an empty chair there and we are a full member with full voting rights that we have not exercised, decision-taking machinery among the European Union—of which we are a member—being exercised by only the 27 could grind to a halt. That is why that language is in the European Council decision. That is why our Government, though in my view quite wrongly, has decided to operate an empty-chair policy in certain parts of the European Union organisation. They have agreed that the Finnish presidency shall exercise our voting rights as though we were there so that unanimity, where it is necessary for a decision to keep the business going, can still be reached. That is the purpose of the language of the European Council’s decision.

The key point is that paragraph 3 of Article 50 is about only temporal extensions. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for whom I have huge admiration—of course, she is a lawyer and I am not—that I believe it is not possible to set conditions to the extension of time under Article 50. I therefore say to her and to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, that both amendments are unnecessary and should not be pressed.