Britain will be further driven to the margins of the European Union and will risk facing counter reaction from the member states if it approves a bill that provides for a referendum for any treaty change or shifting power from Westminster to Brussels, according to an EU parliamentarian.
If the EU bill gets approved, “it will instantly spark a discussion inside the EU about just how we can bypass the British veto,” said Andrew Duff, a Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament who represents the East of England, in an interview in London.
“The Brits don’t seem to have understood that treaty change and improvements to the decision-making processes in Brussels are a natural thing,” he said. “The dynamic of integration is to change the treaties, to shift power, to make the EU more federal.”
The European Union Bill, presented to Parliament on 11 November 2010 by Foreign Secretary William Hague, provides for a nationwide referendum in the United Kingdom on any proposed treaty or treaty change that would transfer powers to the EU. It also adds a sovereignty clause in the European Communities Act 1972 that confirms the ultimate legal authority will remain with the UK Parliament and not the EU.
Mr. Duff was among a delegation of EU lawmakers of the Constitutional Affairs Committee who met with David Lidington, the UK’s minister for Europe, during a visit. He said the main reason for the visit was to “see if anyone in London has noticed that this bill is going to have a dramatic impact on Britain’s European relations.”
“The answer is no. There’s huge complacency and parochial obsessions, but there’s not the slightest indication that the government has thought through the bill in terms of European strategy,” Duff said, adding that the bill has already been seen as a “provocation.”
“The EU bill will cause a huge amount of problems for Britain’s relationship with the EU. It will mean that Britain isn’t a credible partner especially in the constitutional issues, which of course are central to the integration process.”
The leaders of the three main parties in the UK – the Conservatives, the Labour and the Liberal Democrats – do not care about the EU, Duff said, adding that “they’re preoccupied by the domestic politics and have a typical British tendency to think that America and Australia are interesting and important.”
He called the “British exceptionalism on the politics of integration” as “intolerable,” and said “we will be seeking to find ways of changing the treaties that will allow Britain to take up a second-class membership with the EU. Some people in the UK are going to clearly prefer a more detached relationship with the EU – that’s obviously the position of the Conservative Party.”
euronews correspondent in London