Kelly report and Lisbon controversy as-it-happened
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By Ian Dunt
09:11 – Welcome to a major day in parliament. It’ll be a long one. The first big event is Sir David Kelly’s press conference at 10:00 GMT. That will be followed by PMQs, where we’ll be incorporating our usual weekly as-it-happens blog into this one. After that, Harriet Harman will announce the reforms to parliament. Then, at 16:00 GMT, David Cameron will be making a speech – which we can safely presume will be on Lisbon. Labour and Lib Dem MPs have suggested it constitutes an attempt to bury a Lisbon U-turn under the wealth of expenses news. It’s going to be a long day, and our parliamentary reporter will be pacing Westminster in his spare moments, trying to ascertain MPs’ reactions to the report and Lisbon’s final chapter.
09:42 – The leaks last week did give us half the story. We know there’ll be a clampdown on mortgages, we know spouses being employed by MPs will be phased out in five years, that golden goodbyes will be going the way of the dodo and that those MPs in outer London (anywhere one hour’s commute from Westminster) is going to lose that second home. Nick Clegg wrote in the Telegraph today that MPs must accept Kelly’s recommendations “lock, stock and barrel”, and that echoes the assumptions of many parliamentarians, who are now desperate to do anything to regain some public trust. Those in a serious financial position however, for instance those receiving letters from Sir Thomas Legg this week, will have different ideas.
09:55 – Five minutes to go, and half the political world is down outside the press conference. The report has just been handed out. We can tell you this, which wasn’t known until this morning: All candidates will have to declare all financial interests, and put paid jobs they want to keep after the election on the record. Apparently, Sir Christopher does not stress the actual distance after which MPs can claim for a second home, contrary to last week’s leak.
09:58 – Mortgage interest payments are definitely being stopped. Rent or hotels are the only options available. The communications allowance – often called taxpayer-funded propaganda – will be scrapped. The resettlement grant will only be for MPs leaving involuntarily.
10:00 – This is interesting. Westminster MPs won’t be able to sit in devolved legislatures by 2011. Paid work outside the House will definitely still be allowed but it must be transparent.
10:04 – Kelly: “We realise that the new system will involve substantial change for MPs and where necessary we have recommended periods of transition.”
10:07 – Kelly: “Our proposals are reasonable and fair and bring Westminster into line with other walks of life. They recognise the unique circumstances of an MP’s life but are shorn of the special features which give scope for exploitation.” That’s all we can get from the report, now Kelly himself has come in and begun talking.
10:09 – He begins by sounding off his irritation at the fact the report was leaked after meeting with the three party leaders. He spends some time expressing his frustration at how things went last week. He says he wants to strike a balance between MPs being properly reimbursed, while safeguarding taxpayers against the “abuses of the past”.
10:10 – He says the proposals are not retrospective – that’s a veiled attack on Legg. He says they won’t, and wouldn’t ever, stop poorer individuals becoming MPs – that’s a dig at Brown who visited him to push that message this week. He says if that were a problem it should be sorted through higher pay, not allowances.
10:12 – He begins with accommodation, and stresses the proposal I mentioned earlier on mortgages and rent etc.
10:14 – He says there’ll be no more flipping from today. There’ll be small changes to support for second homes. He says the speculation here has been misleading. Right now the only ones who can’t be reimbursed are the 25 within London. The Commons has already said those within 20 miles from Westminster won’t get it anymore, because that’s a normal commute. He accepts that but says it should apply to a further 12 MPs on the same principle. There will be a higher travel rate for those outside the greater London area to reimburse travel costs. When the House is sitting late, the rate will go up to assist with hotel costs etc. There will be no claims for gardening, cleaning or furniture anymore.
10:17 – Spouses being employed isn’t compatible with modern employment standards. He says the leader of the House, Harriet Harman, gave a similar view. That’s a dig, because she has been out defending the use of spouses a bit over the weekend. He confirms what we already know about this. He also confirms that only those MPs being involuntarily removed from the House will get redundancy pay. Starting after the next election, those leaving voluntarily will not get redundancy. Ipsa (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) – the new regulatory body – will be given power to implement sanctions, similar to that available to HM Revenue and Customs. The standards and privileges committee will get at least two lay members. He confirms the communications allowance will be scrapped. He suggests it has been misused for self-promotion.
10:21 – The legislature proposal is confirmed. He warns against forgetting of the damage done to parliament by the expenses scandal. Trust won’t be restored “unless those in authority show leadership and determination”. He believes the three tests of accountability, transparency and taxpayer value have all been satisfied, and wants the proposals in place by the time of the next parliament. He now starts to take questions.
10:23 – He warns his voice is going a bit after spending two days teaching young people, earning some laughs. Should MPs’ pay rise, he is asked. Will party leaders clamp down on MPs? He says the committee hasn’t looked at the issue of pay, just expenses, which under his proposals would do what it is supposed to do. He has recommended independent determination is now regulated by Ipsa, and pay should have an independent body as well. “You never get a complete assurance,” he says of the party leaders, but he does think they understand and are “getting on with things”.
10:26 – A hack tells him its good to know other people also don’t get straight answers from politicians. What does he think about the MPs who are still claiming despite being disgraced? He says it’s an important issue.
10:29 – Someone points out rent is higher than mortgage payments in some parts of London. Also, is there a limit to what MPs can claim on hotel costs? Yes, but the regulatory body set the limit, not him. It’s £120, by the way, not counting VAT. On mortgages, he says that in the past, those who claimed mortgages claimed more than those who claimed rent, and that it was something which really upset the public, because of the hint of profit.
10:31 – He is asked if he isn’t worried he’ll make Northern Ireland more separate by his legislature proposals. He says all Northern Ireland political parties want to see the end of ‘double dropping’. “I don’t think we’re doing anything contrary to what Northern Ireland politicians themselves want.” He’s asked if he has a total cost for his proposals – how much will we save? Will past gain on property have to be handed back? He says his proposals don’t relate to past gains. He says he provides the figures on cost that he can ascertain in the report, but that they can’t establish all of it.
10:36 – He keeps saying he is “making” significant changes and then corrects himself to “proposing”. That says a lot. He says he intends for it to be adopted as a whole. Parliament would be mad not to. “Cherry-picking is a very bad idea,” he tells the audience.
10:38 – On capital gains, will they do an independent valuation? “I’m not going to do anything. It’s up to the regulatory body to implement,” he answers. He is told that the unelected rulers (civil servants etc) will be further reducing the role and importance of elected representatives. “Thank you for that,” he laughs. He has a remarkably attractive, unflappable manner and a bemused smile which makes him particularly competent at addressing this emotional issue. “I assume you mean us among other people,” he continues. He asks: would you rather have self-policed, self-determined regulations, or a body that has conducted its deliberations in a “fully transparent way”? Is there a maximum that MPs should be able to claim on rent in London? Parliament already decided that, he replies. The limit is £1,250 a month. Most claim more than that right now.
10:43 – He defends the spouses proposal, saying he has sympathy for those wives employed by their husbands “but frankly if the House of Commons wants to bring itself into the 21st Century” it’s going to have to stop. Even the European parliament comes to the same conclusion, he says – to laughs. He says Ipsa was left with less power than HMRC after the debate on privilege. He doesn’t sound too happy about it frankly, but he should be cautious – that was an important moment. Who does he blame for the state of the expenses system? “A lot has already been written about that,” he answers. In the past, sometimes explicitly, party leaders have swapped generous expenses for a salary rise, and the culture of entitlement led to problems. The culture of deference meant the Fees Office didn’t challenge as much as it should have. Also, things weren’t transparent. It’s this last factor that he thinks is most important.
10:49 – Should wealthy MPs still get the resettlement grant? He says he understands where the question is coming from , but that it would involve getting into too much detail.
10:55 – The press conference is starting to wind down now. The proposals are pretty much along the lines of what we’d expect, really. Sensible, not exactly radical – but certainly robust, and there will be many MPs feeling aggrieved. They shouldn’t. The Kelly report doesn’t contain anything that would seem odd in a modern workplace. We’ve now got an hour to wait until PMQs, although Gordon Brown and Cameron may stay off the subject, given MPs will debate the issue immediately afterwards anyway.
11:15 – In the last few moments, the prime minister has confirmed he accepts the Kelly proposals in full.
11:45 – This just in from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who are reacting in precisely the way you’d expect. Matthew Elliott, chief executive, said: “Sir Christopher has produced a firm and fair set of proposals for reforming MPs’ expenses, which do justice to taxpayers concerns. These rules would allow parliament to take the first step on the road to regaining public confidence. It is now essential that his recommendations are adopted by parliament and the new expenses authority immediately and in full. People will not stand for another fudge or any more obstructive behaviour. The Kelly report is the way forward for parliament, and it must not be watered down or cherry-picked in any way.”
11:55 – And from Unlock Democracy. Deputy director Alexandra Runswick said: “These are reasonable, common sense solutions and should be implemented without question as a first step in restoring trust in our political system. As the report recognises there are specific aspects of an MP’s job, such as living in one part of the country and working in another, that are not usual for the rest of the population, that require additional financial support. Without this only the very wealthy could afford to be MPs. But it is essential that MPs do not profit from the system. In our submission to the Committee, Unlock Democracy called for the reformed expenses system to be based on three principles: the system should be open and transparent; MPs should not be able to personally profit from it; and the system should be simple to administer and enforce. These recommendations fulfil those principals. We particularly welcome that the report took up our proposal that the independent regulator should provide accommodation for MPs along the lines of the Ministry of Defence scheme for service personnel. In the long term the idea of parliament purchasing accommodation should be explored as we proposed in our evidence. The abolition of the communications allowance is something we have long called for. Just as MPs should not profit form expenses, neither should political parties. We urgently call for the implementation of the recommendations from the Hayden Philips Review to avert future party-funding scandals.”
11:59 – We’ve just discovered John Bercow, Speaker, will be making a statement before Harman right after PMQs.
12:01 – Brown begins by discussing the death of five British soldiers yesterday. He starts to talk about health in response to a question to which Bercow says: “I don’t think we need to get it that. Mr David Cameron.” Cameron says the Afghan incident is very disturbing and asks when we will know more about it.
12:04 – Brown thanks him for the question in that polite way they do when they discuss Afghanistan. He argues it’s still essential to train up Afghan forces so they can eventually take over the country. “We must not allow ourselves to give up.” Cameron says the training is essential. But the public will be concerned that British soldiers are living side by side with those very police, given what has happened. Brown answers without saying very much at all. He says it’s important that all commanders on the ground maintain the strategy, despite the tragedy.
12:07 – Cameron says this raises questions about infiltration. We all agree on a more focused mission, and training Afghans is at the heart of that. But what is being done to clean up the Afghan police. Brown says the Taliban have claimed responsibility and suggests they have infiltrated the police, or used a particular Afghan policeman. We will have to increase the number and quality of the police in Afghanistan, he says. Cameron says the PM is right. But does the PM agree there should be a single strong co-ordinating figure across the coalition, including Nato and the Afghan forces. Is it being considered in Washington? Brown says it has been discussed. But first, we have to make sure the new Karzai government adopts the policies which will help the international community and those in Afghanistan. “He will have to show his new Cabinet is free from the stains of corruption.”
12:10 – Cameron suggests there’s an unpleasant combination of death in Afghanistan and parliamentarians talking about their pay and expenses. But he asks if the PM agrees MPs should never again vote on their pay or allowances etc. Brown says people want to know the system will be different in the future. “That is why it is right to refer the Kelly report” to Ipsa. The vast majority of MPs are trying to do a decent job, he says.
12:12 – Blunkett stands up to say Cameron’s cast-iron guarantee on Lisbon turns out to be made of plywood. Bercow says the PM must concentrate his answer on the policy of the government, not the opposition. Brown does so, by stressing he won’t make “iron-cast guarantees that are broken”. Clegg is up. Shouts everywhere lead Bercow to insist the Lib Dem leader has the right to be heard. Clegg says the Kelly report must be implemented in full. He adds his sympathy to those killed in Afghanistan.
12:13 – Without a legitimate and inclusive government and a new international plan, our troops can’t do their job. How much time has Brown given Karzai to clean up his government and what will he do if he doesn’t. Brown says we should look to Karzai’s inauguration address. Clegg calls on him to be more precise. What will we do if Karzai doesn’t follow through. Brown says he’s already made his position clear. The conditions are clear. They are necessary.
12:16 – Brown is told that the British people have a right to know how long we will be in Afghanistan. Can the war be won? Brown doesn’t really answer, but he reiterates the plan to train up Afghan forces.
12:18 – Brown is enjoying himself a little today. He’s clearly savouring Cameron’s Lisbon trouble. “Where we have made promises we will continue to deliver on them.” He must be upset the Lisbon subject has only flared up on the day of the Kelly report. Brown is asked about last Friday’s youth parliament. Will he respond to their demand of a vote at 16. Brown praises the bringing of the youth parliament to the Commons. Brown says he personally favours votes at 16 but it needs to be consulted on with the public.
12:22 – Does the PM agree the MoD should publish figures about those troops who have lost limbs? Brown says they produce as much information as they can, and he reported today, for instance, on serious injuries. A planted question asks brown about the car scrappage scheme. Brown says it was dismissed by “so many people” but has been a great success. It all comes down to giving fiscal support. A question on the Nimrod incident. Where is the compensation, three years on? The service families deserve better. Brown adopts a serious tone and promises to look at it. Stephen Pound stands and calls for reserved seats at PMQs for members of the armed forces. Brown says it’s something they “can support” but again says we need consultation.
12:28 – Brown answers a question saying he hates to use words like “iron cast guarantee” because the words “have become so devalued”. Hain, Straw et al are just lapping it up. Brown seems happier than he has in years. If it wasn’t for the Afghan deaths he would have skipped into the chamber. Does the PM have confidence the Afghan army and police will slaughter their own brothers in the service of a foreign power and for a corrupt president? Hot stuff. Brown tries to dull it down and against insists “we want to work with the Afghan army and security service”. A question on Prof Nutt and ecstasy. Will he assure the scientific community that he will consider it on merit and not ignore it? Brown says he loves scientists and says the government accepted most of the advisory council’s suggestion. But he insists that once a decision is made, it doesn’t make sense to “send out mixed messages”.
12:32 – Bercow announcement. Professor Sir Ian Kennedy will be chair designate of the Ipsa. That appointment must be confirmed by the Commons. He will be paid a maximum of £100,000 a year. Uproar in the Commons. Bercow shouts order several times but no-one listens. He shouts it at least ten times. “We are fortunate to have such an eminent candidate for this important post,” he says, and again the House explodes with brutal, angry laughter. If the debate’s anything like this we’re in for a good time.
12:32 – Harman gets up to make her statement. Brown is behind her, grabbing his mouth with his hands, like a scared child. “People in this country need to be able to have full trust and confidence in their parliament. What happened has knocked that confidence,” she begins. “We’ve already made changes and the Kelly report is another important step.” She reminds the House that the Commons already agreed to pay back mistaken overpayments. The current allowance system has already been changed and interim measures for the transition period came from the party leaders’ meeting. “No-one should overlook the fact we have already decided to cap the monthly amount that can be claimed on mortgage or rent. Parliament has not sat back waiting for Kelly.”
12:36 – She reminds MPs of the Parliamentary Standards Act, which decided on allowances. Harman thanks Kelly for his “important work”. Not many MPs leave, but more than I expected do. She says the Kelly report has 60 recommendations. She mentions two – the ban on mortgage interest claims and the ban on spouses.
12:39 – On Ipsa, she stresses that the chief executive and the chair designate have both been selected. Ipsa has already started setting up the new allowance regime. In the light of this the government welcomes and accepts the Kelly report as a whole. Ipsa now takes it forward. Until then, “we will retain current restricted allowance rules.” She defends the fact that MPs can’t vote on the new system. It doesn’t make sense, she argues, given MPs can’t vote on their allowances or their pay. Silence. Brown has gone into stand-by mode. “Our responsibility is to continue to take the action needed to sort things out,” Harman says.
12:42 – Sir George Young, shadow leader of the House, gets up for the Tories. On process, does Harman agree the priority is to ensure reforms are “implemented as soon as possible”. Since June the Parliamentary Standards Act meant Ipsa, not Kelly, had the final role. But it isn’t properly up and running yet. If we move quickly, could Ipsa come to its conclusions on the Kelly report by February? The timetable is hard for some staff, who “have to keep the show on the road” while worrying about their future. He declares an interest in the employment of relatives. “In a modern parliament, the current arrangements no longer carry public confidence.” He welcomes the scrapping of the communications allowance, and allowing MPs to retain outside interests. He accepts the accommodation proposals too. “There are legitimate concerns around aspects” of the report, especially on rent (will it be more expensive). Does it meet the PM’s test of being cost effective for the taxpayer?
12:47 – Harman replies. She says his comments on the changing nature of the Kelly report, given the creation of Ipsa, are correct. But she insists it is already up and running and will take Kelly as its text. She insists the spouse ban shouldn’t put a cloud over the good work she’s done. On accommodation, Ipsa will need to look at the implementation issue around mortgages turning into rents and hotels, with an eye towards cost. David Heath stands for the Lib Dems. He assumes Ipsa won’t disregard any part of the Kelly package. He says MPs who are irritated by the proposals must accept the terms of the “contract” have changed. “Those who don’t like it should not reapply.”
12:52 – Brown stayed, Clegg stayed. Cameron left. He attacks Harman a little for suggesting there shouldn’t have been a debate, especially after her media appearances over the weekend. He describes the last year as “disastrous” for MPs. Harman replies by saying the package must be taken as a whole, not as a menu of options. Brown has left. She defends herself, rather weakly. MPs are trickling out by the second. The chamber is actually pretty empty all of a sudden. They certainly seem to have given up the fight. My hunch is those opposed to the Kelly review proposals left the Commons already in dejection.
12:56 – MPs are now asking Harman questions. DUP man Peter Robinson says he agrees with the report, and that his colleagues will support her. Frankly, from a media perspective, the whole thing’s a bit of a letdown. We had all been expecting an emotional, angry session of debate and barely concealed malice. It could be a basic sense of self-preservation, or just the whips, but dissenters appear to have given up. There’s always the crazy backbenchers, my parliamentary colleague texts me from the Commons. Harman swats away a suggestion of a ‘take note debate’. Basically, she won’t countenance a vote. We’re trying to move away from this preoccupation on allowances, she tells MPs. Behind her Jack Straw shuffles papers. He’s terribly good at it. Presumably he’s signing off people to death.
13:02 – Tony Wright, whose face and manner is far too pleasant for parliament, tells MPs they finally have a chance to dig themselves out of this hole they’re in. Harman “strongly” agrees with him. More comments follow about not picking the proposals but taking the package as a whole. It’s at least the tenth time this subject has been raised. It’s become a cypher for proving you’re on the level, basically.
13:05 – Gordon Prentice: What about the payoffs for those leaving government then rejoining. Harman says there have already been changes on that. Ministers who rejoin government have their payment on leaving government abated. Peter Bone asks if Harman was surprised Kelly is basically encouraging wife swapping (MPs’ wives working for each other, in case you’re worried). She says surprise is irrelevant. The Commons is nearly empty now, like a dying party that was never any fun in the first place.
13:08 – Harman says avoidance of capital gains tax is a matter for HMRC, not Kelly or Ipsa. Peter Bottomley asks her to reconsider her answer to the ‘take note debate’. He cites especially members with young children. Harman says she’ll reflect on it, but urges MPs to think about the purpose. She sounds distinctly uncomfortable. You definitely don’t get the sense she’s enjoying this. “I just think we have got to reflect quite carefully,” she says. “We’ve got to have a bit of a self-denying ordinance.” She says that as soon as she tried saying the phrase, she realised it’s not something MPs have done before.
13:11 – OK that’s it for the debate. Stick with us though, because we’ll be bringing you the reaction throughout the afternoon, until David Cameron’s speech at 16:00 BST. If you’re looking for something to do, read our own Alex Stevenson’s analysis of this morning’s package.
14:32 – This statement just in from the new chair of Ipsa, Prof Sir Ian Kennedy: “I am starting work immediately. I met the officials supporting me this morning and have given them clear instructions on the way forward. Public faith in parliament has been severely hit by the events of the last few months and I have no illusions about the scale of the task ahead. It will take time and effort to earn back the trust that has been lost. MPs must be able to fulfil their important public work, both representing their constituents and fulfilling their parliamentary duties. We must set out a framework which allows them to do so and which reflects the concerns of the public. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority must now establish a new system of MPs’ allowances. It must be fair and effective, and also respond to the public’s concerns. This work is already underway, and I and my colleagues will ensure that it is taken forward with rigour, pace and objectivity, listening all the way to the public. The work of the CSPL, led by Sir Christopher Kelly, offers a clear set of recommendations. My colleagues and I will now take up the reins. I have asked the interim chief executive and his team to set out how we will take this work forward as soon as possible – by preparing a consultation paper for approval by the Ipsa’s board in early December. This will set out our proposed allowances scheme and how it will be administered. We will then consult as widely as possible. The consultation will be wide but not time consuming. It will be free for anyone to comment, including MPs themselves. But let me be clear, this authority is independent – of parliament, government and of any other particular interest – and we will be independent in drawing up the proposals and in implementing them. The final scheme will be ready to put into effect early next spring, so we have a new scheme, with no association with the system that has been so discredited.”
15:02 – Our first instance of party political finger pointing using Kelly’s ammunition is just in. The Scottish National party (SNP) is using today’s report to hurt Tory MSP for Roxburgh & Berwickshire – John Lamont. He’s running for the Westminster seat ans say he’ll stay an MSP until the next Scottish parliamentary election. That, according to the SNP, breaches the spirit of the Kelly report’s recommendations on dual mandates. Here’s SNP MSP Dr Alasdair Allan: “John Lamont’s plans fly in the face and the spirit of Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations, by seeking to create a new dual mandate situation for a year or more AFTER publication of the Kelly Report – without even bothering to seek approval from his constituents in 2007. The Tory position on dual mandates is hypocritical and untenable. At no time in 2007 did John Lamont say he was seeking a dual mandate at Westminster. If Annabel Goldie is to retain credibility and authority, she should tell John Lamont to step down as a Westminster candidate in light of Sir Christopher’s Report.”
15:18 – Some interesting points being raised by the Hansard society. The proposed changes to the role and remit of Ipsa would require the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to be amended and/or new legislation put in place, the group says. The recommendation that lay members be appointed to a committee of the House of Commons – the standards and privileges committee – raises important constitutional questions about the propriety of such a move and the precedent it would set for the future, apparently. Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society parliament and government programme, commented: “The Kelly report contains some excellent and long over-due recommendations, many of which reflect our evidence to the committee on standards in public life. These need to be implemented, but, as always, the detail as to how this is done is critical. Some of the recommendations throw up important legislative and constitutional stumbling blocks that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency if Ipsa is to be up and running in time for the general election so that the new parliament can start with a clean sheet.”
15:33 – The latest rumour doing the rounds in Westminster is that Cameron will announce a sovereignty bill, establishing the precedent that UK law overrules European law – the opposite to what is currently the case. He’s also expected to guarantee a referendum on any further European treaties. The obvious response to that will be – what use are your guarantees now?
15:48 – Just under quarter of an hour to go and most of Fleet Street’s finest (they’ve never even been to Fleet Street) are making their way from parliament to St Stephens Club.
15:54 – Cameron’s arrived, flanked by William Hague, shadow foreign secretary, and Liam Fox, shadow defence secretary. He’s trying to look relaxed. He doesn’t look relaxed.
16:00 – Cameron’s late on, but, strangely, Hague, George Osborne and Fox have just sat down in the front row. It seems odd because this is the room he usually does his monthly press conference and, well, they don’t usually attend those. Cameron comes in. He reminds us of the events of the last couple of days. “Our campaign on a referendum on the Lisbon treaty is now over. Why? Because it is no longer a treaty. We cannot hold a referendum and magically make the Lisbon treaty disappear, anymore than we can stop the sun rising in the morning.”
16:05 – He blames Labour and the Lib Dems for breaking the promise of a referendum. “I always said that if this happened I would set out immediately how we would respond…. We will make sure this never, ever happens again.” No British government will transfer power without a referendum. They’ll do that by amending the European Communities Act 1972. It will be a “referendum lock to which [the British people] have the key”. The power belongs to the people, he says, without smiling.
16:08 – He tackles the David Davis suggestion from the Mail this morning, that a referendum on having a mandate to take the EU is a good idea. He calls it phoney. Their relationship will be at an all-time low this evening. There’s more coming. He wants to stop any court thinking ultimate authority rests with the EU. He will pass a United Kingdom sovereignty bill to guarantee British law overrules European law. Apparently, the Germans have this already. “People will rightly say the Lisbon treaty doesn’t just transfer powers to Europe today, but it transfers powers in the future” because of its abolition of the veto. The Tories will change the ‘ratchet laws’ so they require parliamentary approval. He says all these changes can be put in place by our own parliament.
16:12 – The breach of trust committed by the Labour government “will never happen again”. He’s going to put the phrase “never again” on their election leaflets. That’s a phrase usually associated with genocide. Using it for the Lisbon treaty seems a little tasteless. He wants to bring back the opt-out from the social chapter. This would include the working time directive. The charter of fundamental rights will also be renegotiated. He says Blair’s supposed opt-out was just a clarification of how it works in Britain. He also wants a return of powers in criminal justice, back to a pre-Lisbon level.
16:14 – He admits the changes will have to come through European partners, with agreement from all member states. Good luck with that, mate. But success would mean that “European integration should not be a one way street”. He says this is all essential, realistic and deliverable. “We are not going to rush in to some kind of massive Euro-bust up,” he stresses. “If we win the election we will inherit the worst public finances of any incoming government for the last 50 years. That has got to come before everything else. These steps, I believe these things can stop Britain’s relationship with the European Union from heading in the wrong direction.” He says, if he fails to achieve what he’s set out today, but will put it up for a referendum in the next parliament. “That will be a judgement for the future, not for this election, not for the next parliament.”
16:19 – He ends by assuring European partners that he’s not psychotic. He says it has done good, and he would ensure Britain is an active member of the European Union. he will want its doors open to new member states – including Turkey. He does say, however, that Britain’s interests are best served by an EU that is an association of member states, not federalist.
16:21 – “People are fed up with the endless lies and spin,” he says. He sets himself up as, er, ‘a pretty straight kind of guy’ (obviously he doesn’t say that). This is about giving the British people a policy on Europe they can believe in. He opens to questions. What stops a future government undoing the lock? He suggests the amendment to the 1971 Act will hold a position, publicly, which would all-but remove it from future scrutiny. It would become part of the “architecture” of British law.
16:24 – Cameron’s asked about his credibility. He made a promise. He went back on it. He says the promise was clear, and it didn’t include a referendum once it became law. “The treaty no longer exists,” he says. He says he would set out what they would do if that happened, and now he is. Is Cameron concerned by losing votes to Ukip now? And will the supreme court become the highest court of appeal, and see European courts become irrelevant? Could we really stay in the EU is that was the case? Cameron again says how disappointed he is not be having an election. He thinks the party is unified. He doesn’t mention Ukip, which in itself means something. On the UK sovereignty bill – all it does is give Brits what Germans already have. He’s not answering the question. “This is not about striking down existing laws”, it’s about stopping a “judicial drift”.
16:29 – This is just diluting his previous commitment isn’t it? someone asks. And hasn’t Ken Clarke called UK sovereignty in this respect “baloney”. Cameron says he fully supports this . That’s hard to believe. He rejects the dilution argument. Can Cameron give a “cast iron guarantee” on the British rebate?Cameron says his view is clear, criticises what Blair did last time (“money given away for absolutely no purpose”) but doesn’t mention his special phrase. He’s getting more tough questions on the sovereignty bill. He insists it won’t knock down existing legislation.
16:36 – How will he avoid a bust up trying to achieve what he wants?What concession will he make? What threats? He relies once again on this practical, realistic, deliverable line. For the millionth time he tells assembled hacks he will soon call it a day. Mild sense of desperation in him this afternoon. This is his first real brush with a hostile media.
16:39 – One last question. It’s from a Spanish journalist, rather brilliantly. He says his announcement today will look like a volte face, and he will seem amenable to European interests. Fantastic. Cameron says he was desperate for an early election, which would have meant a referendum. He insists people understand why the referendum isn’t possible. He thinks Europe won’t think of the Tories as fools for creating a phoney referendum. The Spanish journalist tries to get back to him, but he cuts him short and ends the event.
16:42 – OK, that’ll be it from us for today, in this long, problematic day in Westminster. With expenses on one hand, and Lisbon on the other, parliamentarians were beside themselves. But as Cameron pointed out earlier, none of it really matters when the other piece of news is the death of five British troops in Afghanistan.