The EU Bill proposed by the Coalition is another example of Cameron trying to appease the hardline Tory europhobes by appearing tough on ‘Brussels’, whilst in reality not doing very much at all.
This week MPs debated a new law giving the British Parliament sovereignty over the EU and guaranteeing a referendum before transferring new powers from Westminster to Brussels. However, in reality there is nothing new about this law. The British Parliament has always been sovereign over European law. It was an act of Parliament to join the EU and the Parliament has the power to withdraw from the EU. Furthermore the British government directly participates in the law-making process in Brussels, and all national governments vote on proposed legislation. Citizens too can participate through the Citizens’ Initiative and by lobbying their directly-elected MEPs.
As for referenda on the EU, the truth is that the bill is so vague that it is unclear when a referendum would take place. Under the new law we could have seen a referendum on small details, such as Britain’s involvement in the EU pet passport scheme, but we will not be seeing the kind of referenda that Eurosceptics really want, such as on Britain’s membership of the EU or on the Lisbon Treaty, despite Cameron’s ‘cast iron’ guarantee.
We have already seen this kind of posturing over the last few months with the EU budget. In the summer the majority of EU governments agreed on a 2.9% rise in the budget, whilst Cameron tried and failed to argue for a freeze. In October, realising he’d lost the fight, Cameron managed to get just 12 Member States to sign a letter saying they wanted a 2.9% rise. He claimed this as a British, Thatcher-style victory over the EU when actually this had already been agreed by 20 governments a few months earlier.
Yet again Cameron is making empty gestures to the more eurosceptic members of his party, whilst achieving very little other than losing credibility with our European allies.