MPs ‘must have a say’ in giving up EU veto

Parliament must have a say in whether Britain gives up its veto on key European Union policies on law and order, MPs have warned.

The EU scrutiny committee says plans to change the way decisions on what constitutes a crime or a presumption of innocence are taken are of “constitutional importance”.

In particular, the MPs note “with alarm” that the UK may not be able to make any bilateral agreements with countries outside the EU on extraditing terror suspects.

Ministers have expressed “serious concerns” about the proposals, which effectively mean Britain cannot block any new laws it dislikes, but have failed to take a firm position.

But the MPs say in a new report: “We believe that on a matter of such importance it is vital that there should be no doubt or equivocation about the government’s position.”

The EU Commission is concerned that on issues of asylum, management of the EU’s external borders and a strategy of terrorism, the requirement of unanimity prevents the union from taking the kind of quick decisions that are needed.

As a result, it has proposed the procedure for taking decisions be changed so issues which normally require unanimous agreement, such as terrorism, fraud and the trafficking of people, drugs and arms, be decided merely on a majority vote.

Home Office minister Joan Ryan told the committee that “in our view.unanimous voting is not a bar to getting good decisions or getting speedier decisions”.

But she said it would be “premature” to reach a decision on whether to oppose the EU Commission’s proposals, saying she would not rule out abandoning the UK’s veto.

The MPs warn this is not good enough and say there must be an urgent debate in the House of Commons. The government has now announced that the question will be discussed in parliament on November 30th.

“We consider this to be essential despite the minister’s surprising statement in her letter of October 30th that the government considers the debate about the passerelle [losing the veto] ‘to be over’,” the committee report adds.

Previously the Conservatives have written to ministers demanding clarification on Britain’s veto. Shadow home secretary David Davis said retaining such a power over policing, the courts and criminals laws was “vital” to the UK national interest.

“If you surrender the veto, and introduce part of the European constitution by the back door, you will put those rights in jeopardy. I urge you to state publicly and categorically that the UK veto will not be surrendered,” he wrote to home secretary John Reid.