This is a man with a plan, but is is legally binding?

When a politician says that he wishes to make something `absolutely clear’ you can rest assured that there is something in his subsequent statement that is of an ambiguous nature or worse still something which is at complete variance with what he is stating.

Well, last week David Cameron stood up in a hushed House of Commons and uttered those hallowed words ,”Let me be absolutely clear about the legal status of these changes that are on offer ….these changes will be binding in international law and will be deposited at the UN …in key areas treaty change is envisaged…”

The changes which were apparently `on offer’ were those which had been hatched between Cameron and Donald Tusk, on a number of topics which the Prime Minister and he had decided should be laid before the British public as proof that EU and Britain had reached a civilised accommodation of each other’s hopes and aspirations for new beginning.

To be fair to Cameron, he did use the future tense when stating that these changes would be legally binding but he totally failed to lay out the procedure whereby they would become binding and which particular key areas would need treaty change .The clear implication being that some would not need anything other than a quick agreement by some higher authority.

Tusk in his letter had written that “most of the substance of the proposal takes the form of a legally binding decision of the Heads of State or Government,”i.e. the European Council.

The House had of course been given sight of the Tusk letter and knew in advance what it said so it perhaps surprising that no one cross examined Cameron on the precise detail of the next steps in the saga.

Dominic Grieve added to the discussion by saying that the House should be aware of the “legally binding nature of the document that he (Cameron) will bring back if it is accepted by the European Council”

No ifs and buts there then, says Mr Grieve. Once it is agreed by the European Council it is law!

The only problem is that the European Council (Heads of State et al) is not part of the legislative body so it can`t make laws so whatever Cameron brings back will be just a statement of intent, no more no less.

On the other side of the coin, some realism has been introduced by our old friend Martin Schulz who has warned of the fact that the MEPs will need to agree to the proposed changes otherwise there could be “roadblocks “to these changes. The fact is that they can stop them.

So there we have it. On the face of it we now have complete confusion over what we, the general public, have been led to believe by the different parties to this discussion.

Are we looking at a quick legal settlement via an agreement of the European Council (which we know they are not entitled to do) or the more convoluted process whereby we have the prospect of treaty change via the normal processes which involve a meetings, conventions and conferences a vote by the EU Parliament? All of this will take time.

There is also the possibility of the use of the simplified procedure which is available under Article 48 TEU for revising treaties. If the European Council is seized of the matter and considers the proposed changes to the treaties to be of a minor nature (well frankly whatever Cameron says, this is all they are) and they are in agreement with those changes they can consult with the Commission, the EU Parliament and then move on to the ratification process will have to be unanimous.

That is what I suspect may happen and nothing will be set in stone until the proper legal processes are complete. They are unlikely to be completed if we have a referendum in June and therefore the British public may be asked to consider its vote in the absence of any legally enforceable changes to our terms of membership in spite of all the hot air in Parliament.

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5 comments

  1. John AshworthReply

    This is so reminiscent of Prime Minister Edward Heath 44 years ago. Heath was bad enough, but Cameron, when the history is written, I think will be seen as worse. After Heath you would not think that was possible, but it is happening, Cameron will be top of the class.

  2. Jason BarkerReply

    I read this interesting comment in last weeks BCN

    It is not too early to consider the coming referendum on the European Union. When our entry to the EU was being debated in 1975, it was a standing joke that if one said that the economic arguments for entry were too weak one was told that the real advantages were political. On the other hand, if one said that any political advantages were insufficient to justify the loss of sovereignty one was assured that the real advantages were economic! We are likely to see a repeat of something like that. The arguments ranged for and against membership of the EU will be economic and political. Most of us will not really be in a position to assess the assertions and counter assertions, the scare stories and lies on which we will be fed liberally.
    We are informed that huge quantities of EU money are being pumped into the campaign to persuade us to stay in Europe and that the Government wants the referendum in June before the next tidal wave of summer immigrants. Mass immigration will be a big consideration, one of many issues in which Parliament is more obviously representative of the European Commission than the British electorate.

  3. MichaelReply

    David Cameron stood up in a hushed House of Commons and uttered those hallowed words ,”Let me be absolutely clear about the legal status of these changes that are on offer ….these changes will be binding in international law and will be deposited at the UN …in key areas treaty change is envisaged…”

    That reminds me of when the late Harold Wilson (PM in the 1960s) said “to be perfectly honest and truthful…” then proceeded to lie his head off.

  4. Gordon WebsterReply

    I agree John. Like Grocer Heath he wants Britain in, and will do or say anything to achieve that end. The Commissioners and Presidents Three have made it clear that NO deal will be binding, and they reserve the right to change or renege at will. They already have it in mind that Britain is a Vassal State in the same way Emperors in the past did. Cameron holds all the aces, in that he can amend the Single European Act and The European Communities Act, citing their illegality, at will. He can call for Brexit and put the Party and Government Machine behind it – then start talking from a position of strength. He does none of those things.

  5. Petrina HoldsworthReply

    Since I wrote this article there has been much discussion in the media as to whether Cameron`s agreement with the other EU member states heads of governments is legally enforceable.
    Nothing which I have seen since would make me change my view that this agreement is only something which MAY become law in the fullness of time if the UK votes to remain in the EU. Whilst the contracting parties mey feel duty bound in International Law to fulfil their promises who knows what the ECJ or the EU Parliament may have up their sleeves or indeed what unforeseen upheaval may intervene?
    Yet we are expected by the Govt.to take all this on trust and vote on the basis that`s it is a forgone conclusion.
    The promise of a” reformed EU “is just that ,just a promise.

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