15th Jun 2021

Brown threatens 'red line' veto over EU treaty

Just one week before EU leaders meet in Lisbon to adopt a new EU treaty, the UK prime minister has pulled the veto card, threatening his counterparts he will not sign up to the document unless the country's special exemptions are fully respected.

"If, of course, we did not achieve our red lines, we would not be able to accept the amending treaty and I think this is well-known to people right across Europe", Mr Brown said after hosting European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in Downing Street on Thursday (11 October).

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Mr Brown's comments are tailored to confront the criticism he is facing over the treaty at home.

The House of Commons European scrutiny committee on Monday questioned the real terms of Britain's four negotiated red lines in the treaty - especially in the area of police and judicial cooperation - in the face of exact legal wording agreed by EU legal experts last week.

"The committee has a particular concern over the effectiveness of the safeguards for the UK position on those questions identified by the government as red line issues", the committee's chairman Michael Connarty wrote to UK foreign secretary David Miliband.

The draft treaty sets out a series of tough conditions which could make it harder for London to stay out of EU justice legislation.

For example, if an existing EU law in the justice area is amended, and the UK wants to opt-out of the amendment while other member states consider that this makes the measure "inoperable," then eventually the law could cease to apply in the UK.

London would bear any financial costs linked to such a move.

According to Mr Connarty's letter, the newly-drafted preconditions effectively limit London's possibility to freely exercise all of the exemptions secured by former prime minister Tony Blair in June.

"If we have understood the position correctly, the amendment to the protocol and the declaration could well have the effect of persuading the UK to opt-in for fear of unpredictable consequences if it did not", the letter says, according to UK media reports.

For his part, Mr Barroso has expressed confidence the UK's concerns would not prevent the 27-nation bloc from putting a full stop behind its years-long journey towards a new treaty.

"I have every reason to believe that the opt-outs that were so hard fought for by Britain are going to be kept in the text," Mr Barroso was cited as saying by AP.

Barroso's lesson to the UK

At the same time, the commission president urged Downing Street to become "fully committed to the EU".

"I find it frankly strange that the debate on this side of the Channel so often seems to suggest that the UK is fundamentally at odds with the Continent", Mr Barroso said at St Anthony's College Lecture on Thursday evening.

"Europe needs the UK as much as the UK needs Europe", he added, pointing to a series of policies – such as climate change, the fight against poverty in Africa or globalisation - where both, London and Brussels, speak with one voice.

The commission president questioned the British traditional view of Europe as a market more than as a set of institutions.

"To run a market across 27 countries, you of course need effective institutions", Mr Barroso argued in his speech, adding "those who want to reduce the EU to a market don't even understand markets".

The Portuguese politician defended a strong commission as well as a strong European Court of Justice, describing them as guardians of free and fair competition.

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