» Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Put that Margaret Beckett said yesterday at the FAC that it would be possible to take a view on Monday as to whether it would be necessary to hold a referendum on the outcome of the EU Summit, and asked was this not a change to what had been said before, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that he understood the journalists had to fill this week somehow, but to be honest we were in danger of semantics.  The reality was that the Prime Minister had set out his four red lines, and this was the only basis on which he would agree a deal in Brussels.  His view, as expressed ever since he met with the Dutch Prime Minister, was that if the four red lines were met, then we would have an amending treaty, such as was agreed in the Single European Act, and such as was agreed in Maastricht.  And that therefore did not require a referendum.  That has been our position for a month and a half.  It was slightly ingenuous to pretend that this whole debate about a referendum had changed in that period. 

Put again that the Foreign Secretary had said that if there was an agreement on a mandate this weekend, then it would be possible on Monday to say whether or not in the Government’s judgement, it was sufficient to require a referendum, and asked was she not holding the door open for the possibility that an agreement could be reached that did not meet what we were hoping to get out of this, and then we would have to get a referendum, the PMOS replied that the journalist was in danger of over analysing.  The position had been quite straightforward ever since the Prime Minister held his press conference with the Dutch PM.  He set out very clearly that his view was that we should aim for an amended treaty, and that amended treaty was one that did not have the constitutional elements that the original one did.

Asked to comment on reports that Britain had put down some new demands in the last 24 hours relating to the job description of an EU Foreign Minister, the PMOS replied that this was not the case.  In terms of the job of the position of the EU Foreign Minister, we had always been of the view that that person should be answerable to the Council.  And again, the Prime Minister said this at the press conference he held with the Dutch PM.

Asked if Britain was not then back tracking on support for the EU Foreign Minister’s responsibilities, the PMOS replied that as long as that person was answerable to the Council, that was key distinction.

Put that the Council of Ministers did not meet that often, and that the EU Foreign Minister might have to react very quickly, and asked whether this would happen by consultation by telephone between leaders, the PMOS replied that it was not as if this was a new phenomena.  We have had an EU representative in Javier Solana for quite some time now, working within those parameters.  So we knew how this worked, let’s not pretend that we don’t.   As the Prime Minister had said, there will be nothing which will stop the UK having its own distinctive foreign policy, and carrying through that foreign policy.

Asked on the Charter of Fundamental Rights whether it was the case that we wanted this to appear in the Treaty but not be binding, or would we prefer it not to appear, or would we prefer an opt-out or opt-in, the PMOS replied that he recognised that this was a perfectly legitimate question, but he was not going to give a running commentary whilst discussions were ongoing.  But the general principle was absolutely clear – we will agree to nothing which alters our ability to set our own domestic judicial, criminal policy.  And the same was true for tax and benefits.

Asked for details on the Germans’ latest proposals on the role of the EU Foreign Minister, the PMOS replied that this was for the Presidency to brief, not us.  Asked if we had seen the latest proposals, the PMOS replied that they were beginning to be circulated so the journalist would not have to wait long.  But this was a summit where the real decisions would only be taken at the summit.  This would be a real discussion, and let nobody be under any illusion, it would be a hard discussion.

Put that President Barroso had said yesterday that it would be "unintelligent" of Britain if the Prime Minister were to turn up with red lines, and asked to respond to the use of that word, the PMOS referred the journalist to the previous answer – this was hard discussion, hard negotiation.  We would have to work hard to protect our interests, but we believed we could do so.  At the same time, we believed that it was in the national interest of this country and the interest of Europe as a whole, that we moved on from discussing the Constitution to discussing practical matters.  Europe had shown in the last year or so, that when it talks about issues such as energy security and climate change, it can make a real difference for the good.  That was where the focus should be, and therefore we needed to agree a practical way of working to get the maximum benefit out of European cooperation.  And that’s what we believed we could do.

Asked what the differences would be between the role of the EU Foreign Minister and that of Javier Solana, apart from the title, the PMOS replied that discussing this would be getting into the details of the negotiations.  It was important to have someone who would speak on behalf of the European Union within the framework of the European Union, but did not in any way get in the way of our ability to have our own national policy.

Asked if it would be unfair to characterise this as Britain seeing the role as not being hugely more significant than Solana’s position, the PMOS replied that the advantage of having someone in this role was that there was continuity.  But it had to be clear what framework that continuity was within.  And that was the inter-governmental framework that each country has the right to set its own foreign policy.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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