Monday, 10 January 2011

Hague's EU Bill faces stormy passage

William Hague writes in today’s Telegraph, defending the provisions of his European Union Bill, which reaches committee stage tomorrow.  As a significant piece of constitutional law, the legislation will be considered by a committee of the whole house, entitling any MP to contribute to a clause by clause dissection of its contents.

The bill is supposed to deliver the ’referendum lock’ on any future European Union treaties or transfers of power between Westminster and Brussels.  A significant body of Tory Eurosceptics, though, insists that it is riddled with loopholes and doesn’t go far enough.  Two rebel amendments are proposed, which could derail the government’s plans.

Hague is insistent that the legislation represents a significant consolidation of democratic principles and empowers parliament against an over-mighty executive.  Still, it will remain up to the government to make a decision on whether a proposed transfer of powers is 'significant'.

The Foreign Secretary’s proviso is that any ministerial decision will be open to judicial review.  “Any British citizen will be able to go to court to enforce the electorate’s rights“.  In truth, it's a rather messy solution to a messy problem.

Taken in the round, though, parliament and the people will have more tools at their disposal to scrutinise potentially contentious European Law, if this bill is passed.  And although Clause 18, which deals with the effect of European Law on the sovereignty of Parliament, is largely symbolic, it does attempt to lay to rest a perennial constitutional chestnut.

It states explicitly that it is only by Act of Parliament that EU law is directly effective in Britain.  A distinction which might be of interest chiefly to students of the constitution, but which clarifies the nature of the UK's relationship with the EU.

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