Jim Murphy, the new Europe Minster, made his first
appearance at the European Scrutiny Committee yesterday. The general consensus
that it wasn't too impressive. To be fair to him, the issues he was discussing
– such as the revised Constitutional Treaty – are pretty complicated. But we
would have expected him to have got his officials to brief him thoroughly on
the really tricky points – such as the Charter – especially as the legal advice
to the committee was leaked to the Telegraph.
After negotiating the new EU Constitutional Treaty Tony Blair told
parliament that “Nothing in the Charter creates justiciable rights
applicable to the United Kingdom.”
But the MPs on the scrutiny committee weren't convinced. They pointed out that
the text of the UK's
opt-out reads: “nothing in [Title IV] of the Charter creates justiciable rights
applicable in the United Kingdom.”
They asked Murphy whether this meant that everything else in the Charter was
justiciable in the UK?
Murphy failed to answer the question.
He struggled to explain the meaning of the opt-out and failed to back up
Blair’s argument that this will not be justiciable in the UK.
He could only say that the Charter “doesn’t create any new rights.” He was
asked over 10 times by MPs to give a straight answer “yes or no” to the
question but he failed to do so –much to their irritation. Instead he repeated
that “the legal advice that we have had is that this charter brings in no new
Jim Murphy’s failure to answer this question on the Charter only strengthens
the growing consensus that the UK
opt-out is not worth the paper it is written on. Jacques Ziller, a professor at
the European University Institute in Florence,
has said that the idea of one country opting out of the charter was “nonsense”
and would quickly be challenged in the courts. The Guardian has reported that,
former EU Justice Commissioner Antonio Vitorino has questioned the legal basis
for the British opt-out and the Commission’s legal experts expect that the
British opt-out will be tested in the courts.
He made a distinction between “discussions” and
“negotiations”. When it was pointed out that Government advisers had
begun work on the treaty back in January he claimed that “There’s a difference
between negotiation and conversation”. He argued that because no draft was on
the table back then they were not negotiations.
The advisers – he said – were simply asked to “explain the UK's
concerns and priorities” for the new treaty. Seemingly contradicting
Beckett's definition of negotiations:
“To my mind the process of actual negotiation begins when you are
invited to set out your core demands.”
The MPs were not happy. Even the Labour chairman Michael Connarty – sensing he
was being “had” – began ripping into him . Not the best debut
performance we've ever seen.
If Brown wants to be seen to be building trust, perhaps he
should appoint a judge to every parliamentary committee with the authority to
hold Ministers in contempt should they lie, become evasive or fail to answer
The attitude of ignoring the legal basis of agreements sponsored by the former Europe Minister Geoff Hoon must be stamped out.
We demand honesty from now on, we demand a referendum on the European Constitution Treaty.
Sign the No.10 Petition for a referendum now.
NuLab – Destroying Britain from the inside out.