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European Union Act 2008

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  1. 1. To pass the bill

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  • Poll closed on 05/22/2022 at 10:59 PM

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European Union Act 2008

Mr. Speaker, 

I rise today to introduce to the House the Government's European Union Act 2008. 

The purpose of the legislation is straightforward: to enshrine into law the guarantee that all major changes to existing EU Treaties be subject to a legally binding referendum of the British electorate. This landmark bill represents a historic transfer of power from Westminster into the hands of the British people. It guarantees that the citizens of this country are firmly in control of their democracy, and that only they have the power to determine if and when Parliament transfers sovereign control over lawmaking to Brussels. It ensures, Mr. Speaker, that the era of politicians making empty promises about referendums relating to the EU has come to an end. 

Specifically, the legislation makes two changes to existing law. First, it requires that any future amendment to either the Treaty on European Union (TEU) or the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) made by treaty must be first approved by an Act of Parliament before going into effect in the United Kingdom. This ensures that all future treaty changes are subject to a confirmatory vote of Parliament, and strengthens the power of Parliament in matters relating to the European Union. 

Second, the legislation requires that a legally binding referendum be held across the United Kingdom and Gibraltar whenever an amendment to either the TEU or TFEU is proposed that would result in a transfer of competence or power from the United Kingdom to the European Union. This portion of the legislation provides the statutory guarantee that the British public always be consulted on future transfers of power from Parliament to Brussels. Both aspects of the legislation will take effect immediately upon receiving Royal Assent. 

The introduction of this legislation is a good day for British democracy, and marks a turning point in our relationship with the European Union. It allows Britain to continue to play a leading role in the EU, while strengthening our representative democracy and putting power into the hands of the British people. I am privileged to be able to introduce this bill to the House, and encourage its swift passage. 

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Mr Speaker,

I must begin by saying how gratifying it is to have a Government that takes sovereignty seriously!

The European Union is a fundamentally anti-democratic entity. Its instincts are to centralise power. In Britain, we simply allow it to do so, weakening our own democracy by osmosis. Treaties bearing changes of constitutional significance are waved through without a meaningful mandate. Were it not for the intercession of the electorate in choosing this Government, the Lisbon Treaty, an ersatz EU Constitution, would have become merely the latest example.

I thank my Rt Hon Friend for bringing this Bill to begin to address that balance. While I support the Bill, I implore him to recognise it as the beginning of the protections needed for our sovereignty, not the end. There are some areas of weakness that this Bill highlights, some of which I encourage the Government to consider and to reflect upon, others of which I hope to improve through amendment.

The first issue is on the matter of “enshrining into law”. Mr Speaker, the provisions of this Bill are enshrined only until they are repealed by some future government. This is the very nature of the parliamentary sovereignty that we seek to protect. As such there is little the Government can do to prevent this, other than to join me in impressing on all in this House, and all outside it, to guard against the democratic backsliding such an act would represent.

The second issue is around the triggers for a referendum in section 3(a)(i). I fear that terms such as “significant area” and “substantially impact” are sufficiently broad as to enable some future government to simply define a future treaty to not meet these thresholds, thus circumventing the intended protections. I further fear that the interpretation of these terms by a future government could end up in the courts, again undermining the parliamentary sovereignty that we seek to protect. For instance, does an accession treaty “impose [..] obligations on the United Kingdom”, since it changes British policy towards the acceding country, at least in the areas of trade and immigration? I encourage the Government to reflect on the drafting of this paragraph, in order to best achieve the required outcome.

The final issue is around the source of treaty changes that would be covered by the Bill. European Union treaties include what are called “passerelle” clauses. These “self-amending” clauses allow the treaties to be changed without requiring a further treaty. They change European Council procedure in particular areas from unanimity to qualified majority, or from special legislative procedure to ordinary legislative procedure. In other words, passerelles facilitate precisely the type of change that would otherwise necessitate a referendum under section 3(a)(i)(2). Changes with the scale of a treaty, but without the safeguards that govern treaties. Furthermore, passerelles are “ratchet” clauses; they can only move one way, towards Brussels. As the Lisbon Treaty seeks to add several more passerelles to the EU treaties, this is the ideal time to put in place our own safeguards. Therefore I beg to move the amendment in my name on the order paper:


In Section 2, after “made by treaty”, insert “or by passerelle clause”

This Bill makes a welcome, and critically needed, first step in recovering our sovereignty, and enabling proper consideration over how EU membership affects our constitution. I hope the Government will accept my amendment, and consider the other matters I have raised, to ensure this legislation gives as effective protection as Britain deserves.

Norman Wingrove | Conservative Party

Secretary of State for the Environment (1983-present)

Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion (1969-present)

Former Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1972-74), Secretary of State for Social Services (1979-81), Secretary of State for Industry (1981-83)

Former Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras South (1959-1964)


Previous round: Nicholas Devereux, Conservative MP for Tewkesbury; Sir Robert Ayres, Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs

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Mr. Speaker, 

I thank the Foreign Secretary for the legislation. As someone committed to fighting for Britain’s strong cooperation with our European allies and to the wider success of the European Union, I look forward to taking to the public and making that case. To that end, I will be voting for the legislation. 

Ruth Murphy.

Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton (1974-).

Opposition Whip (1982-).

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Mr Speaker,

I would like to welcome this legislation proposed today. It is absolutely right that more power is put into the hands of the British people when it comes to our future in the European Union, and this legislation does exactly that. In the 1990s, Conservative Prime Minister John Major decided to ratify the Maastricht Treaty without consulting the British people, so it is only right that the future of the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty, and all future treaties, is put into the hands of the electorate to rectify this wrong. I look forward to walking through the division lobbies in favour of this bill.

James Byrne MP

Member of Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch (1983-)

Shadow First Secretary of State (2007-)

Shadow Foreign Secretary (2007-)

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Mr. Speaker, 

I'd like to take a moment to respond to the various interjections that have been made since the debate began. 

First, *turns backwards to acknowledge Nicholas Devereux,* allow me to begin by commending my colleague and friend the Member of Parliament for Tewkesbury for his compelling remarks. I agree with him completely - more must be done by this Government, and by every future Government, to prevent the sovereignty of our country and the rights of the British people from being surrendered to the European Union under the guise of future, "progress." While I believe that Britain's membership to the European Union is a net positive, it does not come without challenges and threats to our freedoms. The principle of "ever greater integration," may be acceptable to my friends on the European continent, but it is not acceptable to the United Kingdom or her Government. While my tenure as Foreign Secretary has been short, I am glad that it has consisted heavily of work to claw back power from Brussels, prevent Lisbon from being used to expand the authority of Brussels over Parliament, and provide a statutory referendum lock on future EU treaties. 

I share the concern expressed by my friend the Member for Tewkesbury about the use of term of, "significant area." After receiving legal advice, we added additional text after the term, to further indicate what constitutes a significant area. While this may not be enough to ensure that the Government of the day take appropriate action to guarantee a referendum on a relevant matter, I would actually argue that the involvement of the Courts could serve to strengthen the power of the British people and Parliament's sovereignty. In a scenario in which a future Government neglects to hold a referendum on a treaty amendment that would result in Britain giving up a veto, any Member of Parliament would be able to use the Courts to review the decision and, when appropriate, compel the Government of the day to introduce legislation to hold said referendum. I think the Courts have an important role to play in holding to account a Government that is deliberately attempting to deny the British people a binding referendum on such a matter,

With that being said, Mr. Speaker, I would invite my friend to submit an additional amendment, if he so chooses, that would result in the further clarification of this section of the bill. I am confident with the text where it stands, but always invite collaboration and suggestions from my colleagues on the back benches. 

Additionally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to confirm that the Government finds the Member's amendment as friendly. He has made an excellent argument in favor of this legislation covering passerelle clauses, and I see no reason not to accept this commonsense amendment. 

I would like to take a moment to thank the Leader of the Liberal Democrats for lending her party's support to the Act. While our views on most areas of policies certainly differ substantially, I am pleased that on this issue we can find common ground and that the Liberal Democrats will be working with the Government to expand the democratic rights and powers of the British people. 

And finally, Mr. Speaker, in response to the Shadow Foreign Secretary I would simply say this. I understand that the Shadow Foreign Secretary would prefer to focus on the political debates of the 1990s, as his party's leader is, after all, determined to bring the Labour Party back to the days of the 1990s. What is clear, however, is that the Conservative Party ran on a manifesto of providing a referendum lock on European Union treaties, and his party did not. Were Labour to have won the general election, the British people would have been flat out denied a referendum on Lisbon. Fortunately, the electorate had other plans. 

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