I can fully understand the frustrations many feel about the turn of events in the EU.
Many Eurosceptics thought that once a new Treaty proposal came along, all the UK Prime Minister had to do was to table a series of amendments and opt outs for the UK so we could loosen our relationship, as our price for signing up to let the others move forwards to yet more closer union. After all, they argued, the previous Conservative governemnts had managed to negotiate effective opt outs from the social chapter, the common borders, the criminal justice provisions and the single currency. Labour has now given most of those away, and most Conservatives want to get control back over vital matters like borders, criminal justice and the economy.
The proposal for a new Treaty came along quicker than the government had expected. Mr Cameron asked for less in exchange for UK consent to the others going ahead with more integration than I would have wanted, but had even his modest demands turned down before Christmas. He rightly decided to veto the EU draft Treaty, and renewed that veto this week.
Instead of bringing the rest of the EU round to offering the UK a better deal, it led directly to their decision to create an inter governmental Treaty between up to 25 states. The unresolved issue between Mr Cameron and some of his Eurosceptic critics, is could the UK find a way which works to stop the 25 (or however many finallly sign up if they do) from using EU institutions to develop and enforce their enhanced co-operation in these budget and economic matters? Some think he could. He himself says he will watch it vigilantly and take legal action if need arises.
He clearly cannot see an easy way to stop them using the EU facilities as they choose. Ultimately for the other members these issues anyway will be settled by the European Court of Justice, a federalist court. Labour signed the UK up to Treaties which introduced “enhanced co-operation” and special treatment for Euro members enforced by the EU institutions, undermining the UK position.
So what are the other options from here? The UK could hold a referendum on continued membership, and on the terms of membership, preparatory to seeking a renegotiated settlement or exit if that is the wish of the electors. The UK government could notify its EU partners of its intention to hold a referendum and seek negotations of a better deal to put to the UK electors prior to a referendum. Both these routes have been firmly ruled out by a decisive Parliamentary vote against a referendum when we recently engineered a motion and vote, thanks to the overwhelming wish of Labour and Lib Dem MPs to back Coalition Ministers.
The UK could make proposals for piecemeal repatriation of powers that have some cross party support. The idea of repatriating a third of the EU budget by opting for national control of regional and structural funds described here recently might attract such support. If it did so the government would have to take it up in the EU. Proposals this week that have come from Parliamentary sources to repatriate the lost criminal justice powers would probably attract less cross party support.
The government could take the advice some of us are offering them about the need to play tough on the issue of the use of the court and other institutions to enforce the Treaty of the 25. If the EU intends to use its legal and institutional architecture against us in pursuit of a Treaty of 25, the Uk could counter by legislating in the UK to modify our adherence to EU law in a way which offset or compensated us for the extra legal reach the 25 were asserting. There are all sorts of legal arguments about whether the UK could or should undertake unilateral legal action. Some of us think it is the obvious answer to moves by other EU states to circumvent EU agreement by having a Treaty amongst a lesser number of states, yet continuing to use EU legal process.
I understand many of you just want to leave the EU. As I need to remind you, very few UK voters vote for that view in UK General Elections, so none of the 3 main parties has it as a policy, and the Lib Dems and Labour make a virture out of being federalist parties. This means that it is not about to happen. If this Parliament will not vote for a referendum, it is certainly not going to vote to leave the EU.
That is why come out Eurosceptics have to unite with moderate Eurosceptics to try to reverse the tide of powers flowing to the EU, and to get us a looser relationship. As the last week has shown, even that is going to be very difficult. It is, however, important that for the first time the rest of EU has demanded a Treaty and the UK has refused to sign it in any form. All previous Prime Ministers have signed up to all proposed Treaties, some willingly, some after opting the UK out of important bits. We have to work with the Euroscepticism that there is in Parliament, as whatever Eurosceptics in the country want, it all hinges on Commons votes. People in the country who are very frustrated by the never ending march of EU power can help and can make their voices heard. They need to lobby all those MPs who do not vote in the Commons for less EU control of our lives, or for a new relationship for the Uk with the continental powers.