There is no doubt at all about what happened at the EU Summit meeting held in Brussels on 22nd to 24th June 2007. Notwithstanding the decisive No votes in France and Holland in June 2005, the collective leaders of the European Union agreed to ram through almost every part of the Constitution which had been so recently and decisively rejected by two key Member States. The only components of the original proposals which were eliminated were of no practical significance. References to flags and anthems were omitted. A few titles were changed. The word "Constitution" was dropped in favour of what was agreed be called instead an "Amending Treaty". Otherwise all its original components were included, with some extra twists. In particular, the new draft pandered to French protectionism as the reference in the preamble to the main treaty document to competition being a main EU economic objective was relegated to a protocol.
The line being taken by the government in the UK is that what was agreed in Brussels was neither very similar to the original Constitution proposals nor of great significance to the UK. Neither of these propositions is remotely accurate. As senior politicians all over the EU commented, almost all the original contents of the Constitution remained intact. "The fundamentals of the Constitution have been maintained," says Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. "The great part of the European Constitution is in the new Treaty," echoes Jos‚ Luis Zapatero, Spain's Prime Minister. "There's nothing from the original institutional package that has been changed", says Finnish Europe Minister Astrid Thors. "Thankfully they haven't changed the substance; 90 per cent of it is still there," agrees Bertie Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach, adding, for good measure, however, that "I think all the changes that we have made are for the worse."
Before the Summit took place, the British government set out four points which it stated were non negotiable. These were making the Charter of Fundamental Rights justiciable within the UK, curtailing Britain's ability to pursue an independent foreign policy, undermining our Common Law legal system and displacing the UK's right to run its own social security system. Although success was claimed, thus supposedly justifying the assertion that the Amending Treaty was not only not the Constitution but no threat to British interests, the reality is that in all these four cases the outcome is either unlikely to stand the test of time or was never a real threat in the first place. The protocol excluding the UK from the Charter of Fundamental Rights is almost certain to be successfully challenged. Britain's capacity to take its own line on foreign policy is heavily curtailed by agreement to establish an EU Foreign Minister and diplomatic service in all but name. The domestic application of our Common Law system will no doubt continue for the time being, as there was never any intention that this should not be the case. The establishment of an EU Chief Prosecutor, however, bodes ill for the future, while the European Court of Justice is to have ultimate jurisdiction over justice and policing. As to the way the UK runs social security, the current round of negotiations allows the EU to adopt powers over social security policy and the "emergency brake" opt out by the UK is unlikely to survive the attrition to which it is bound to be subjected as time passes.
In fact, if the Amending Treaty is adopted, there will be a very large further transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels. The EU is to be given a legal personality, almost like a state, allowing it to sign international agreements on everything from foreign policy to crime. This change will be buttressed by the appointment of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, whose initiatives and policies we are bound to support "actively and unreservedly". There will be a new EU president, elected with a term of office of sufficient length for him or her to become a much more powerful figure than the present six month office holder. There will no longer be one commissioner per member state while the European Parliament will be given extra powers in about 40 areas. A European public prosecutor will be created with power to initiate prosecutions, along with more powers for Europol and new EU wide policies to harmonise civil and criminal laws and sentences. The veto has been scrapped in over 60 areas, to be replaced by qualified majority voting in everything from transport, public health, sport, energy, asylum and immigration, to space and science policy and even the annual budget. The EU is now to have an increasing role in economic co-ordination and employment policy. On top of everything else, the new amending treaty contains provisions allowing the EU to pursue further integrationist proposals on its own account without the need for any more international treaty negotiations between the Member States. Nor is it planned that the Inter Governmental Conference to be called later this year to implement the Summit decisions should be given any latitude to change what was decided at Brussels. Its job is to do what it is told.
There are two reasons why we ought to have a referendum on the Amending Treaty. The first is that Parliament on its own has no right to transfer powers of self government away from Westminster. MPs are elected by the people to carry out their election manifestos and party commitments strictly on the basis that the control they have over our affairs is time limited and subject to the outcome of the next general election. If Parliament wants to change the rules, so that Britain's role as a self governing nation is changed into the country becoming part of a much larger EU state, it needs the very specific agreement of the British people that this should be done. The second reason why there should be a referendum is that all the major parties, and therefore all but six of all the MPs elected in 2005, campaigned during the last general election on a manifesto commitment that a referendum would be held before the proposed EU Constitution was to be enacted by Parliament. Now that almost exactly the same proposals are in front of us, just changing the name of the Constitution to an Amending Treaty is no excuse at all for reneging on all the election promises which were given.
Why, then, is there such reluctance to let a referendum take place in the UK? There is a very simple explanation. It is as certain as anything ever is in politics that the results would be overwhelming rejection of the current proposals to transfer more powers from Westminster to Brussels. The government - and all those in favour of the current EU Amending Treaty - know that any such proposals are deeply unpopular in the country and would not be accepted. Furthermore, it is not just those in authority in the UK who are frightened of what the outcome of a referendum in Britain would be. So are political leaders right across the EU. They know that if there was another resounding defeat in the UK for what is the Constitution in all but name, this would trigger off calls for referendums in many other countries where, in few of them, is there any certainty of a positive result being achieved. As a result, the government in Britain is under enormous pressure from everywhere else in the EU not to concede a referendum.
The consequences of treating the electorate in this way in Britain - and in other countries too - are extremely unpalatable. A recent poll found that 75% of all the people in the EU - 83% in the UK - want a referendum on any new treaty. Universal refusal everywhere to allow referendums to be held can only confirm the widely held view that the EU has always been a deeply undemocratic organisation, as indeed is the case. Because its founders distrusted democracy, it was established always to have permanently appointed officials with the real power, and thus with almost no real electoral control over its activities. The more nakedly the EU flouts democratic procedures, however, the more alienated its constituent electorates become, the less consent it generates and the wider the gap becomes between its political leaders and those they purport to represent. Now, unfortunately, the low democratic standards of the EU are infecting its Member States, including Britain, which has a much longer and better established tradition of democracy, fairness and accountability than many other EU countries. It is hard to believe that, in their heart of hearts, more than a small number of MPs genuinely welcome the contents of what is now called the Amending Treaty. It is equally hard to believe that any of those who promised a referendum at the last election genuinely believe that the proposals now in front of us are so different that all their election promises about a referendum can be forgotten. If this is the case, there must be a very large number of MPs who feel extremely uncomfortable about the fact that they face the prospect of being dragooned into voting down the referendum which they publicly committed themselves to supporting.
Faced with this situation, what can everyone who does not want to see Britain being further absorbed into a supranational EU state do to stop this happening? First, we must campaign as vigorously as we can for a referendum. We need to make the public as aware as possible to what is at stake and to keep them aware of the new dangers to British self-government which are now in prospect. Second, we need to mobilise those who carry large amounts of influence on our public affairs to ensure that they continue campaigning for a referendum, including everyone from trade union movement leaders to most of the press. Third, we must hold our MPs to account and put all the pressure we can on them to ensure that they keep the promise that almost all of them made that there would be a referendum on any proposals to transfer any further large powers to Brussels. Absolutely without question the Amending Treaty would do this, if it were to be agreed. Finally, we need to keep reminding everyone that democracy rests on consent and that, if this is not forthcoming, there is no mandate. The government has no right to give away our sovereignty without the specific consent of the British people. We have to stop them thinking that they can get away with allowing this to happen, by creating a climate of opinion which makes it impossible for them to do so. This is a battle we have to win.