10th May 2021

Eurosceptics fail to amend British bill on EU

  • Britain has long had a troubled relationship with the EU (Photo: Dees Chinniah)

British Prime Minister David Cameron has survived an initial challenge from eurosceptic Conservative MPs who are demanding a more hawkish version of the government-proposed bill on the European Union.

The bill - known as the 'referendum lock' - states that "substantial" EU treaty changes must first be approved by UK voters in a referendum, but Tory MPs who failed to secure a number of amendments on Tuesday (11 January) say the bill has been watered down to appease pro-European coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.

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Conservative Europe minister David Lidington had earlier tried to allay rebel concerns, saying the legislation would shore up sovereignty and give ministers almost no "wriggle room" on the European question.

"Any future changes to EU treaties, however minor, will need to be ratified by a full act of parliament," Mr Lidington told the BBC. "For the first time ever ... parliament has the final say in deciding whether EU law has effect in the United Kingdom."

But rebel MPs argue that the government bill merely restates the current position, calling on Tuesday for an amendment that declares the sovereignty of the British Parliament in relation to EU laws. The call was rejected by 314 votes to 39.

Further proposed changes are to be debated by Westminster in the coming days, including a demand by some Tory rebels to ensure a referendum on Britain's EU membership be held if British voters reject an EU treaty at any point in the future.

The debate this week has served as a reminder of the British Conservative party's difficult relationship with the European Union, with party infighting plaguing the former leaderships of Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the 1980s and 90s.

Mr Cameron surprised many by opting to pull his party out of the European Parliament's centre-right European People's Party grouping in 2009, shifting to an anti-federalist group instead, and since coming to power last year has persistently rallied against the EU's "creeping" budget increases.

Washington has made it clear to London in recent years however that it wants its strategic partner to be a central member of the EU, thereby maximising its influence.

China has also sought to lean on the UK to deliver its message in Brussels.

International trade representative Gao Hucheng urged Britain on Tuesday to lobby for an easing of EU controls on high-tech exports to China. The 27-member union restricts high-tech exports to China, with Western business executives frequently complaining about what they perceive as inadequate intellectual property rights protection in the Asian powerhouse economy.

"We hope our British colleagues can help urge the European Union to relax its restrictions on high-tech exports to China," Mr Gao told a trade forum organised by the China-Britain Business Council.

Europe also restricts its sales of weaponry to China, following Beijing's brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Britain's member of the European Commission, Catherine Ashton, who also serves as the EU's top foreign policy chief, suggested in a major policy paper last month that the EU should ease the arms embargo.

China urges Germany and France to solve euro-crisis

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Thursday offered vague promises to buy bonds from troubled euro-countries, but said that it is ultimately up to Germany and France to solve the crisis.

MEPs and China mark change in relationship

Members of the five big political groups in the European Parliament have met with members of the one big political group in the National People's Congress of China, in what has been described as a “changing” and "very friendly" climate.

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