Speech

Queen's Speech: European Communities (Amendment) Referendum Lock Bill

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Notes on: "My Government will introduce legislation to ensure that in future this Parliament and the British people have their say on any proposed transfer of powers to the European Union."

The purpose of the Bill

  • Increase democratic and parliamentary control, scrutiny and accountability over EU decision-making. We want the people and their representatives to have more say. We want to increase the democratic accountability of the EU.
  • The Government believes that Britain should play a strong and positive role in an enlarged European Union, but that no further powers should be transferred from the UK to Brussels without a referendum. This approach strikes the right balance between constructive engagement with the EU to deal with the issues that affect us all, and protecting our national sovereignty.

The main benefits of the Bill

  • Ensuring that the UK Parliament and the British people will have their say on any future proposed transfer of powers to the European Union.
  • Any proposed future Treaty that transfers competences or areas of power from the UK to the EU will be subject to a referendum: a ‘referendum lock’. So no Government will be able to pass more powers to the EU unless the British people have agreed that they should.
  • No Government will be able to join the Euro unless the British people have agreed that they should.
  • The Government will be required to pass primary legislation before it can give final agreement to a ratchet clause - also known as passerelles or ‘bridging clauses’. There is no one agreed definition of a ratchet clause. Some provide for modification of the Treaties without using the ordinary revision procedure. Some are one-way options already in the Treaties, which EU Member States can together decide to exercise and which allow existing EU powers to expand. As it is difficult to come up with one definition we are likely to list in the Bill the Treaty Articles which the Government considers to be ratchet clauses. The use of any major ratchet clause, which amounted to the transfer of an area of power to the EU, would also be subject to a referendum.
  • These changes would put in place real protection for our democracy. They would increase the accountability and democratic legitimacy of the EU and ensure that the British public is able to take a decision on any future transfer of power to the EU.

The main elements of the Bill

  • Amendment of the European Communities Act 1972 to ensure that any proposed future EU Treaty, or amendment to the Treaties, and major ratchet clauses that transfer competences or areas of power from the UK to the EU would be subject to a referendum.
  • Amendment of the European Communities Act 1972 to ensure that an Act of Parliament would be required before a ‘ratchet clause’ (passerelle) could be used.
  • Ratification of a Protocol to amend the EU Treaties on measures to adjust the size of the UK and 11 other Member States’ delegations in the European Parliament during the current EP Parliamentary term, rather than waiting for the next European Parliamentary elections in 2014.
  • The Government will examine the case for a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill, to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country.

The Coalition: our programme for government

Existing legislation in this area is:

  • European Communities Act 1972
  • Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000
  • European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003
  • European Union (Amendment) Act 2008

Devolution

The Bill applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. Government policy on Parliamentary sovereignty and the UK’s membership of the European Union are both reserved matters.