Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Renegotiations and the House of Lords

First things first: the EU Referendum Bill has gone through Committee, with the third day of it having taken place on November 4. First day of Report is scheduled for November 18 and several Amendments (mostly the ones that were not moved in Committee) have been put down already. So far, the only Amendments added to the Bill are ones moved by HMG in the person of Baroness Anelay of St John's, which raises the rather perplexing question of why have those Amendments been left to this late stage. Could it be that some of these matters did not occur to HMG until the Lords started going through the Bill with some attention to detail? Just a thought.

Yesterday was taken up with David Cameron's letter Donald Tusk, a.k.a. President of the European Council (only one of several Presidents the EU has, which shows how superior it is to the USA that has only one President). There were also statements in both Houses and the one in the Lords together with the short debate can be read here.

No, I don't know either why it is headed Europe: Renegotiation when the statement, quite correctly referred to "the Government's EU renegotiation". Baroness Morgan of Ely, former member of the Toy Parliament and present Opposition Whip and Labour Spokesperson on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs as well as Wales (she can say a few words in the language) tends to talk about "Europe" rather than the EU. Then again, one of the interesting aspects of the debates on the subject (and there will be many more) is just how stupid the woman is. Having once debated with her in Cardiff, I knew that but it is good to have it confirmed. To be fair, even I underestimated her stupidity. Just read her reply to the Minister and you will see what I mean.

There are, as we know, problems with the PM's proposals, particularly this one:
We propose that people coming to Britain should live here and contribute for four years before qualifying for in-work benefits or social housing, and that we should end the practice of sending child benefit overseas. The Government are open to different ways of dealing with these issues, but we need to secure arrangements that deliver on these commitments.
A number of people have commented on it, mostly pointing out that it will need a treaty change and a major one at that.

On the whole, we can ignore statements by Baroness Morgan for the Labour Party (who is still proposing to add 16 and 17 year olds to the voters' list but not, apparently, 14 and 15 year olds) and Baroness Smith of Newnham for the Lib-Dims, who are seriously over-represented in the House of Lords. Effectively they are saying that their parties will campaign for staying in, no matter what the outcome of the negotiations might be. That is not a rational attitude.

Let us turn to someone who can actually punch hard in debates, Lord Lawson of Blaby (Col. 1949):
My Lords, the Statement we have heard runs the full gamut from the inadequate through the vague to the completely meaningless. I ask my noble friend two quick questions of elucidation. Under economic governance, the Statement concludes that any issues that affect all member states must be discussed and decided by all member states. Does it mean that legislation in this area must be agreed by all member states? If not, what on earth does it mean?

Secondly, under sovereignty, the Prime Minister’s letter to President Tusk states that he would seek a formal, legally binding and irreversible way to exempt the United Kingdom from the commitment to ever-closer union. But since the rest of the European Union is committed to ever-closer union, and since the European Union will continue to legislate to this end, what on earth does that achieve?
Indeed, the ever-closer union is written into every treaty's preamble since the one of Rome all those decades ago.

The Minister's response was so disappointingly vague and woolly that I see not point in putting it up here but it is there in Hansard for all who want to read it.

The question of how many EU citizens claim benefits here and what those are, in-work or out of work remains unanswered despite attempts by Baroness Ludford to obfuscate an already foggy issue. Of course, the benefit system needs to be reformed for everybody but I doubt if the noble lady would agree with that, being of the Lib-Dim persuasion and another former member of the Toy Parliament.

Nor were as Lord Garel-Jones's incomprehensible comments about red card, yellow card and subsidiarity particularly impressive. The whole shebang is pointless, really. You can have any amount of coloured cards, they will not restore legislation to the national parliaments. But I do have to report one victory. After many years of campaigning by Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Willoughby de Broke (who had asked a Question about Basic Farm Payments earlier in the day) to make former European Commissioners declare their interests there seems to be some movement in the right direction. At any rate Lord Clinton-Davis said (Col. 1952):
I speak as a former commissioner in Europe. This debate is outrageous. We ought to be discussing not how we are going to withdraw from Europe but how we can play a part in ensuring that our voice is heard. At the moment, it is not, because the Prime Minister is being ambiguous—we do not know where he stands. He will not say whether he is for or against. What is vital is how we make our views heard, not how we can withdraw. We should not have this attenuated debate, but a real one about the all-important issues. At the moment, that is being denied to Parliament, and that is wrong.
Without making it a declaration of interest, which it is, he does point out that he is a former Commissioner in Europe though, of course, it was the European Union. I suspect the noble lord finding the debate outrageous is quite useful from our point of view.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch raised a couple of important points (Col. 1453):
My Lords, I ask the Minister how seriously the Prime Minister takes his belief, according to the Statement, that if powers do not need to reside in Brussels, they should be returned to Westminster? Does the Minister think the Prime Minister understands that this requires the breaking of the acquis communautaire, the one-way ratchet to complete union? Surely that will require unanimity. It will require treaty change. I suppose the real question is that if the others do not agree this revolutionary concept in the project of European integration, does that mean that the Prime Minister will campaign to leave?
The Minister has promised to write to Lord Pearson on the subject and that is something to look forward to. Interestingly, the Statement left open the question of which side the PM is likely to campaign on. We all assume that he will proclaim whatever he gets a great victory and campaign to stay in but by suggesting that he might not do so he has presented himself as a man of political flexibility and also of real principle. (Stop laughing at the back.) With the Opposition shouting that they will campaign to stay in, no matter what, this is a useful image to project.

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