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27th Nov 2022

Experts question scope of UK treaty opt-out

  • EU officials believe London will have little room to tighten up the opt-out in the upcoming IGC (Photo: Wikipedia)

Doubts are emerging on the value of a key concession secured by the UK at last weekend's EU treaty talks - London's opt out from the bloc's rights charter - with experts questioning whether the UK is now fully exempt from the charter's legal effects.

EU officials said on Monday (25 June) that the British exemption from the Charter of Fundamental Rights - a document listing the citizens' rights declared binding in the EU's new treaty blueprint - is "complicated."

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"The opt-out probably does not cover the whole of the charter," one senior official said. "The scope of application does not seem to be extraordinarily wide."

Legal experts in Brussels are currently looking into the exact meaning of the lengthy opt-out protocol which was secured by outgoing UK prime minister Tony Blair at last week's EU summit.

The opt-out states that the charter does not create "justifiable rights" in the UK, which go beyond the country's national law, amid fears that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could overrule UK's social legislation while referring to the binding EU rights charter.

Although the charter opt out was earmarked by Mr Blair as one of the "red lines" he would not cross, the wording he secured in the treaty is not seen as completely watertight, British media report.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the legal advisor to the UK parliament's EU scrutiny committee said he "doubts" whether Mr Blair has now secured that the charter will not change UK Law.

The paper writes the charter could still have an indirect impact on UK law, particularly in cases where the ECJ ruled on charter-related issues in other EU member states.

The Guardian meanwhile writes that Antonio Vitorino, a former EU justice commissioner, has questioned the legal basis for the British opt out.

EU officials believe however that London will have little room to tighten up the opt out in the upcoming intergovernmental conference (IGC) – a formal round of detailed treaty talks to kick off on 23 July.

The IGC talks are meant to finalise only some technical treaty matters, with the incoming Portuguese presidency expected to try and reject any calls for reopening of last weekend's political deal on the treaty.

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