Yes to a Referendum? A Labour View

Bill Wedderburn, QC offers his informed opinion on the Lisbon Treaty, the draft Constitution and the need for a referendum.

Bill Wedderburn QC | Mar 2008
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About the book

As the debate on the European Reform Treaty enters the House of Lords, Bill Wedderburn, QC, an ex-President of the Institute of Employment Rights, offers his informed opinion on the Reform Treaty, the draft Constitution and the need for a referendum.

This timely booklet will be of interest to all those wanting to take part in the growing debate about the British people’s right to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

At the 2005 general election, the Labour Party manifesto promised a national referendum on the draft EU Constitution. Now, the EU Lisbon Treaty is going through Parliament but the Labour Government is refusing to hold a referendum. Why?

This booklet addresses the crucial question: is the Lisbon Treaty substantially the same as the draft Constitution? The author, Bill Wedderburn – a QC, a Life Peer and a member of the Labour Party since 1946 -analysis the thousands of pages in the Lisbon Treaty, the Constitution and the commentaries about them (most of which were unavailable to the UK public before January 2008) and agrees with the vast majority of European politicians that the Lisbon Treaty contains substantially the same provisions as the draft Constitution.

The Government says that it is not the Constitution, just another Treaty. But, according to Lord Wedderburn, you can’t change the substance of a document by giving it new titles, a new style and form or by making it – as the Lisbon Treaty is – virtually unintelligible.

Bill Wedderburn goes on to summarise the issues likely to impact on UK workers. He considers the government’s so called “red lines”, one of which aims to prevent the European Charter of Fundamental Rights liberalising Britain’s anti-union strike laws. Wedderburn does not believe the Charter _can_ displace the UK’s anti-union laws, even if it were adopted. But Wedderburn _is_ of the opinion that the binding Protocol is unlikely to withstand the scrutiny of the EU Court of Justice.

Turning to the EU Court of Justice, Wedderburn claims the Court will have vast new constitutional powers under the Lisbon Treaty and is set to become an EU Constitutional Court. He says:

_The ECJ is well on the way to achieving a role not dissimilar to that of the United States Supreme Court under the American Constitution, or possibly a role that is even more powerful._

He goes on to warn, by reference to the Viking and Laval judgements, how the EU Court of Justice limits trade union rights at EU level by enforcing, as law, the economic rights of business and Capital in the single internal market.

Bill Wedderburn concludes that the substance of the Constitution is to be found in the Lisbon Treaty and gives illustration of that. He ends by saying the Government has been misguided in refusing a referendum to the British people, as promised in the Labour Party manifesto.

Instead, the Lisbon Treaty has been pushed through the House of Commons, a fact that raises the heat on the House of Lords debate, taking place between April and June 2008. Unfortunatley, in the first debate on 1st April, only 12 hours were made available for the 71 members who wished to speak. The government refused to extend the time so that back benches had less than 10 minutes each on this enormous subject.


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