Continued controversy over EU Bill


This archive item is a window onto issues as they appeared at the time. It contains facts and opinions which may have been superseded by subsequent events.

Against a backdrop of Lords working through the night, The European Union Bill was afforded a fifth day of debate in the Commons yesterday, though calls to remove the normal House time limits were rejected.

The five days of amendment debate in the Lower House (almost twice that awarded to the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill) is indicative of the controversy surrounding the government Bill, with criticism waged from both eurosceptics and europhiles on both sides of the House.

Hear what the expert thinks: Vernon Bogdanor

Eurosceptic Tory MPs have argued that the programme does not go far enough and that the Government should have allowed the House to continue debate beyond the usual 10pm cut-off, removing the potential for filibustering.

Tory MP Peter Bone criticised Government handling of amendments, which prevented debate of his own proposal to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU.

Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, was also dismissive of the extra day, commenting that “this is not what was envisaged when we discussed the strengthening of Parliament in the previous parliament.”

The criticsm continues the Bill’s turbulent path since its introduction in November, with the Europe Minister David Lidington recently forced to redraft the Bill’s explanatory notes amidst criticisms of poor legistlative drafting.


The Bill At A Glance


Government intention

The European Union Bill reflects two promises made by the Conservatives in their 2010 manifesto:

  • To require a referendum before any further transfer of power to the EU
  • To introduce national sovereignty legislation “to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country”


What the Bill does

  • Requires a referendum to take place before any ‘significant’ transfer of power to the EU.
  • Requires a referendum before the use of any existing ratchet clause to transfer competences or areas of power from the UK to the EU.
  • States that EU law has effect in the law of the UK only through an act of parliament. This rejects the notion that EU law has legal precedence in the UK in its own right.


What the Bill doesn’t do

  • Repatriate any powers from the EU back to the UK.
  • Affect the primacy of EU law.
  • Require a referendum in the case of accession treaties or any ‘insignificant’ change to EU powers.
  • Prevent a future government repealing the referendum lock.



Professor Vernon Bogdanor argues that the EU Bill is both:

Contradictory: it involves a sovereign Parliament calling for a binding referendum (“like asking if an omnipotent God can bind herself”)


Redundant: it sees an executive legislate for a referendum-lock when it already has the power to veto any applicable decision.

This publication presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.