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Nick Clegg should say No Thank EU

A couple of days ago I re-read the “Liberal Democrat Manifesto for Europe”. On the summary page it says

“Liberal Democrats don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions. This is because Liberal Democrats believe that individual people, families and their communities know best about the things that affect them, so decision should be taken by them, not by distant politicians and bureaucrats in Westminster or Brussels.

That is why we insist that Europe does not act when national, regional or local action is more effective.”

I assume that is still the party position (given that the web site is still live).

I am sure that most Liberal Democrats agree that on matters of public health this is especially true.  Decision-making should wherever possible, be taken at national, regional or local level, not left to the whims of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

I am also sure that the party will agree that if the UK parliament has been deliberately denied the opportunity to scrutinise any European legislation, (having refused to provide a waiver on scrutiny), then that legislation should not be allowed to proceed until such times as it has.

All that being the case I will be asking Nick, as Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, to take action on a rather scandalous state of affairs.

Back in June, Conservative MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Anna Soubry was summoned, very hastily, to attend a General Council meeting in Luxembourg on 21st June. The purpose of the meeting was to agree, with other health ministers from around Europe, the “general approach” to be taken on the revised Tobacco Products Directive.

Soubry requested waivers from the scrutiny committees in both Houses. The Lords agreed but the Commons European soubry picScrutiny Committee said no on the grounds that there was insufficient time (less than two weeks) to examine the very many (and complex) issues involved. Soubry decided to over-ride the House of Commons scrutiny committee, and played a full and “crucial” role in the discussions on Europe-wide regulation at the June 21st meeting.

The Directive is now due to be voted on by MEPs in the first week of September. This vote too has been hastily forced up the agenda (scheduled for October, it has now been moved to early September).

Voters in Britain will rightly wonder what is going on. Why is Brussels in such a hurry to get this legislation rushed through? Why has UK parliament been denied the right to examine the proposed EU laws? Why are most of the public wholly unaware of the proposals and therefore prevented from expressing their views on the matter? Why indeed is Europe forcing through laws banning swathes of products that no UK government has sought fit to do?

No wonder Euro-scepticism is on the rise. No wonder at least half of the adult population believe that the UK would be better off outside of the EU if this is how legislation is introduced.

The scrutiny committee has already summoned Soubry to explain herself (and a very sad and sorry affair it was too). The chair (Bill Cash MP) has stated :

“We consider that insufficient information was made available to the committee to enable it to scrutinise the Commission’s proposals”

“Negotiations on the draft Directive appear to have proceeded at unwarranted haste given its far-reaching implications”

“The draft Directive remains under scrutiny”

That begs the question how on earth can MEPs vote on the Directive proposals in early September when the Directive is still under scrutiny in the UK Parliament?

I will be asking Nick to take action. This is a cast-iron chance to make the words in the manifesto count; make it clear that EU laws that by-pass proper scrutiny in Westminster will not be tolerated.

I will be asking Nick to:

  1. 1. Work with others (including Lib Dem MEPs) to ensure that the EU delay any vote on this Directive (which has been rushed through faster than a high-speed train) until such times as Westminster has been given sufficient time to examine the proposals contained in the Directive. There is no good reason to force this through in September when, for want of a few weeks or so, the ministers can re-convene and discuss this proposal with the benefit of more time, consideration and proper parliamentary scrutiny. Then, and only then should MEPs be given the opportunity to vote on the proposals.
  2. 2. Ensure that decision-making on UK public health remains with elected politicians here in the UK, not Brussels bureaucrats.

Earlier this week the smokers’ group Forest launched a new campaign No Thank EU seeking to give the British people a voice on this piece of desperately hurried and deeply flawed EU legislation.road-sign-logo6

But it should not be left to Forest to bang on doors demanding  that the EU be made to pause whilst elected politicians here in the UK (and elsewhere I have no doubt) are actually given sufficient time to review carefully what is proposed.  Nor should it be Forest’s job to fight to ensure that decision-making on matters of UK public health remains in the UK.

This is an ideal opportunity for Nick in particular, and the party more generally, to demonstrate to voters that being Pro-European does not mean remaining silent when Brussels gets it wrong. To show that liberals are willing and able to stand up to Europe when UK parliamentary processes are circumvented or when the Commission moves beyond its remit.

I understand that smoking is a controversial topic and that some Liberal Democrats believe that any measures that may reduce smoking rates should be embraced. But this view is deeply flawed if they are willing to allow proper process to be casually caste aside in the process. Those who are passionate about the need for yet more smoking legislation and support the EU measures proposed should lobby for their inclusion in the Liberal Democrat manifesto – not hide behind Brussels bureaucrats. That is how democracy works, surely?

I have listed the key EU proposals below. I know that Lib Dem MEPs are already deeply concerned about the proposals on e-cigarettes contained in this Directive and have spoken out about it publicly on several occasions. But speaking out about some aspects of the Directive, or seeking amendments come the September vote, doesn’t go far enough.

It’s like agreeing to play a game of football knowing that the hosts of the game have changed all the rules and given themselves a 3 goal advantage. To play the game legitimises the new rules. That won’t help the 1.3 million+ vapers or 10 million+ smokers and it will outrage many ordinary voters who will wonder what on earth the EU will be allowed to railroad through next.

This is bad legislation, rushed through to avoid proper scrutiny. I am asking Liberal Democrats individually and collectively, and the leader specifically, to make a stand.

Signing the petition would be helpful so please do go ahead and sign. But I am also asking the party to show that when necessary it is willing to stand up to the EU, and to coalition ministers who have chosen to play fast and loose with parliamentary process.

What the EU proposes and Westminster hasn’t been allowed to examine:

As well as forcing all e-cigarettes to become classified as medicinal products Europe-wide, the EU Tobacco Products Directive proposes:

  • A  ban on menthol and ‘slim’ cigarettes throughout Europe.
  • Larger health warnings on packs and pouches covering  75 per cent of the front and back.
  • Standardisation of cigarette pack size and shape
  • A ban on packs of ten cigarettes
  • A ban on all smaller pouches of roll your own tobacco

For more information on these proposals, visit “What’s at Stake” on the campaign website.

For additional reading on the Tobacco Products Directive see this article “A dog’s breakfast” by Clive Bates (former director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health).

Angela Harbutt is Campaigns Manager for No Thank EU (www.NoThankEU.com), launched on July 29.

19 Responses to “Nick Clegg should say No Thank EU”

  1. Chris Says:

    You appear to have no understanding whatsoever of the concept of a single market. Rules like this are made at European level to stop countries trying to give themselves relative advantages. Democratic oversight is provided by elected MEPs.

    Ranting about “the whims of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels” utterly destroys your credibility.


  2. Angela Harbutt Says:

    I cannot see how banning menthols (to name but one product) across the whole of Europe, when no member state currently bans them, has very much to do with “internal market harmonization” or indeed “stopping countries trying to give themselves relative advantage”.

    Democratic oversight by elected MEPs is all well and good, but not if they are asked to vote on legislation that they believe has the been scrutinised by their national Parliament, but has not.

    You appear to believe that it doesn’t matter that a junior minister can go off and negotiate on behalf of the whole of the UK without reference to anyone, but I believe its rather important. I think voters agree with me.


  3. Alex Macfie Says:

    Although I would prefer there to be national parliamentary scrutiny of national government positions in the Council, I think European Parliamentary scrutiny has more value, especially as MEPs are not whipped by the government.


  4. Alex Macfie Says:

    I think you are conflating two separate issues, (i) whether this is a legitimate EU competency (I think it is) and (ii) the degree of regulation that should be applied. If banning particular types of cancer stick is over-regulation, then it is over-regulation whether it is done by the EU or by the UK. And much of what you describe is a failure of UK parliamentary democracy, as much as of the EU. As I said I favour greater UK parliamentary scrutiny of the actions of our government ministers in the Council, but the independence of the European Parliament from national governments means that MEPs provide more effective democratic scrutiny of EU law than MPs ever could. I suspect most MEPs are well aware that their national MPs don’t usually get much say in what their ministers do in the Council, except in countries where their national law requires such parliamentary scrutiny (e.g. the Neterlands).

    You cannot assume that the proposals you list will be in the final law, and if you disagree with them, then you should lobby your MEPs to have those removed. I tend to agree with “Chris” above that you undermine your point by ranting about the EU in general; this is nothing to do with whether the EU is a good or bad thing, but about a specific law, and there are democratic processes for shaping EU law the same as there are for UK law.


  5. Gary H Says:

    Sadly these are largely typical Lib Dem “defend the EU at all costs” responses – accuse the author of ranting, say EU democracy works better than UK, insist there are checks and balances in EU process. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

    Alex Macfie for example suggests that health is a legitimate EU competency, however the Commission has put forward this Directive based on Article 114(1) TFEU (not about health)…

    114 (1) provision allows measures aimed at improving the conditions for the establishment and functioning of the internal market i.e. the measures must “genuinely have that object, actually contributing to the elimination of obstacles to the free movement of goods or to the freedom to provide services, or to the removal of distortions of competition”. Yet ENVI recommendations are argued for on the basis of health. Classic competence creep.

    Detailed analysis of the ENVI committee activities on this directive shows that not only has it disregarded the boundaries of its remit,but has breached several (EC) protocols in order to get where it is.

    It is indeed both a failure of the EU and UK parliamentary system. But sadly, whilst the UK (i.e. Soubry) protocol breaches have been widely reported, Brussels breaches of protocols have gone – as yet- almost wholly unreported. Where there has been reporting, (e.g the evidence provided at the HOC European Scrutiny Committee on 17 July which indicated very clearly that the UK parliamentary failure was caused at least in part by the time-frame of decision making set by the Commission) it has been as a by-product of the scrutiny of the UK parliamentary system.

    I also have to disagree with the suggestion that “MEPs provide more effective democratic scrutiny of EU law than MPs ever could.” My experience is that MEPS do no such thing. They turn up , chat a bit and largely do what they are told or what the Commission proposes (subject to some bartering – I’ll support you on X if you vote on Y). The outcome of the vote is almost always highly predictable regardless of the debate held or the merits of the proposal.

    If Liberal Democrats wish to view the European legislative process through their rose tinted spectacles good luck to them. Those of us in the real world will continue to fight for much needed and well overdue reform.


  6. Lucky Strikes Says:

    Angela
    Ignore the Lib Dems that live in their fairyland and believe everything European is peachy. I am a Lib Dem but am not so blind that I cannot see that the Commission is in need of urgent and substantial reform. I certainly hope that the “red card” system is introduced as soon as possible. This looks exactly the sort of thing it is meant to tackle. I had no idea that these proposals were coming along in the pipeline and I do wonder why it is that I don’t? I am an avid consumer of news – yet I’ve heard nothing of this. I have signed the Forest petition and I will talk to my MEP. I am afraid my views may well fall on deaf ears, he is rabidly anti-smoking – but I’ll give it a go. I wish you every success.


  7. Lucky Strikes Says:

    Forgot to say.. I assume that you’ve seen this piece re Anna Soubry?

    http://www.thinkscotland.org/todays-thinking/articles.html?read_full=12302&article=www.thinkscotland.org


  8. Alex Macfie Says:

    Gary H: My response is nothing to do with “defending the EU at all costs”, rather it is about not reducing every discussion about a proposed EU law to the question of being pro or anti EU. I do not think the EU institutions are perfect; I support reform of the EU and do not support every current or proposed EU regulation. In much the same way I support reforms to the UK constitution and do not support every current or proposed UK law. Most people would be the same; the difference is that we do not react to every stupid proposal from the UK government or from Whitehall by demanding to abolish the UK. If UK politics were debated the way we debate EU politics, it would be portrayed as a choice between uncritically supporting whatever the UK government of the day and the UK civil service proposed, and wanting to “smash the British state”. And anyone did not support “UK-scepticism” (i.e. abolition of the UK) would be portrayed as being uncritical UK-supporters who would “defend the UK at all costs”. It would be ridiculous for UK, and it is just as ridiculous for the EU.

    You say about the European Parliament, “The outcome of the vote is almost always highly predictable regardless of the debate held or the merits of the proposal.” Really? And that of a vote in the UK Parliament isn’t? Actually European Parliamentary votes are a LOT LESS predictable than votes in the UK Parliament. The latter are usually highly predictable, due to the inbuilt majority of the governing party or parties and strong party discipline. In the European Parliament, there is no “government” or “opposition” as it works on the principle of separation of powers. Therefore there is no “payroll vote”, and party discipline is anyway much weaker in the European Parliament than in most national parliaments. No party group has a majority in the European Parliament, so winning majorities are formed by different groups on an issue-by-issue basis. All this means that the European Parliament is rather unpredictable in its voting patterns, and very well positioned to stand up to both the Commission and the Council.


  9. Alex Macfie Says:

    Lucky Strikes: the reason you hadn’t heard of this is the media “conspiracy of silence” over virtually everything to do with the EU. The ONLY thing the media ever reports as far as the EU is concerned is the pro/anti-EU debate: when it comes to issues of specific EU laws or proposals, they are not interested. And you seem to have accepted the media narrative of the EU debate, that the only possible positions on the EU are uncritical support for everything one in the name of the EU, or withdrawal. So you portray Lib Dems as “believ[ing] everything European is peachy” just because we don’t react to every bad EU proposal by calling for withdrawal from the EU. Well sorry but it’s wrong. There are controversies over specific laws and policies in EU politics in the same way as there are over specific laws and policies in any national politics. And you deal with them in the same way, by focusing on the specific law or policy and how you want it changed.


  10. Alex Macfie Says:

    Oh and the regional list system for electing MEPs means you have more than one MEP. So write to all of them in your region: maybe you’ll find one who is not so rabidly anti-smoking…


  11. Lucky Strikes Says:

    Alex Macfie NO ONE here is calling for the withdrawal from the EU???? Not sure where exactly you get that from?

    I am however agreeing with the author that this legislation having proceeded at “unwarranted haste” should be halted until there has been enough time for proper scrutiny. Further I believe that where there is, i think it was called “competence creep”, it should be told that this is unacceptable and the proposed legislation sent back to the drawing board. I believe such measures would be helpful to the winning back confidence and faith in the system.

    RE the “conspiracy of silence” I am not sure if you are correct about that – Liberal Democrats do seem to blame the media for everything – but whatever the reason the result is that UK voters quite often only get to find out about proposed legislation after it has been passed or, as in this case, when someone spots it and makes a noise.

    If the result is that when people do make a noise they are accused of “ranting” or accused of being “anti-EU” then fewer people in the party will be willing to make a noise when things have quite clearly gone wrong. I want more people making a noise – it informs decisions and helps us improve the system.

    By the way – I do think that Brussels bureaucrats are a big part of the problem on very many occasions and we should not be afraid to say so when they are.

    Regarding your point about having more than one in MEP in the region – fair point – we have one very vocal MEP who tends to dominate a lot of discussions. I certainly will take a look at them all and see where best to write.


  12. Alex Macfie Says:

    There IS a media conspiracy of silence over European issues. When did you last hear, in the mainstream media, about a European Parliamentary debate or vote? When was the last time an MEP from a party other than UKIP was on BBC’s Question Time? MEPs, and particularly Lib Dem MEPs, do frequently take stands against the Commission and the Council. However, the media largely ignores it, as it ignores anything about EU politics that cannot be reduced to the “in/out” debate. That is why voters often don’t hear about proposed EU law until it’s too late, while what we do hear about it is often inaccurate and coming from people with an axe to grind about the EU in general (“Euromyths”).

    So while you didn’t advocate withdrawal, I was referring to the general tone of the debate around EU policy, viz what the OP wrote:
    “No wonder Euro-scepticism is on the rise. No wonder at least half of the adult population believe that the UK would be better off outside of the EU if this is how legislation is introduced.”
    Well, UK domestic law is also often introduced this way, so perhaps the UK should be abolished. Good examples are Cameron’s daft web filtering proposals (probably unlawful under EU law BTW) and Chris Grayling’s changes to legal aid for defendants in criminal cases: neither of which require primary legislation in Parliuament. This isn’t an EU problem, it’s a problem with executive branches in general. Brussels bureaucrats are a problem, but so are Whitehall bureaucrats and town hall bureaucrats. This is not to excuse bureaucratic unaccountability in the EU, only to say it should be put into perspective. What Anna Soubry did was the fault of the UK system, and the lack of accountability of minsiters to our parliament, not of the EU as such.

    And to be clear: no-one goes into EU negotiations saying “We agree with whatever the Commission says because the Commission represents Europe and Europe is a good thing.” Nor do MEPs ever take such a stupid position. MEPs mostly take their role in scritinising proposed legislation very seriously; the Council, with its lack of accountability, is more of a problem. Look we probably agree on the need for EU reform, but no-one actually says it’s perfect and doesn’t need reform.


  13. Junican Says:

    Look – It is not the niceties of the bureaucracy that this post by Angela Harbutt is about. It is about the vicious persecution of people who enjoy tobacco. Why should not adults who enjoy tobacco be able to choose slims or menthol if they wish to? Where did the authority come from which permits the EU aristocrats to interfere with the free choices of individual citizens? Why does the directive suggest totalitarian control over what individual citizens wish to do? Who says that there should be a ‘one size fits all’ specific shape and size and colour and design of a cigarette packet? Who decided to put those ideas into the directive?

    The EU IS CORRUPT. You do not need the Gori events to make this decision. It is obvious, and is bound to be so. Its organisations are a honey pot for charlatans.
    The EU functions as a kingdom without a King. No one person, or any identifiable person, is ‘The King’. Nor is it a Democracy in which THE PEOPLE chose whom the decision makes are. Regardless of what has been said about MEPs, the reality is that they cannot stop the Council of Ministers deciding to do whatever it wishes to do.
    The Soubry affair has revealed the corruption in no uncertain terms.


  14. Wayward Traveller Says:

    Always find it amusing when people write snide comments about the author “ranting” (you did not btw) and then proceed to write longer and longer and ever more hysterical comments themselves.
    Good post Angela. I will sign up. Nick will do nothing on this – it’s insufficiently “leftie” for him these days but I am guessing you know that.


  15. Lynne Says:

    I’m certainly not anti EU. I only took an interest because of the TPD. I had switched to e cigs some time ago only to discover that the EU wanted to regulate them out of existence.

    Clive Bates said the TPD is a dogs breakfast. From the antics of Dali to the stupidity of Anna Soubry, the whole thing stinks.

    Smokers who are forced to pay a fortune in tax, won’t know that they can no longer buy menthol cigarettes or packets of tens, most of which are bought by moderate smokers. If this is democracy, you could have fooled me.


  16. Michael Says:

    Chris, thick bastards like you would give the lot away to Brussels without a murmer.

    Nick Clegg really is an utter fckwit. Him and his ilk urged us to join the euro which has proved to be a disaster zone.

    And the man who thought pensioners were on about 35 quid a week when it was 95. Totally out of touch with ordinary people.

    Now he claims Britain out of the EU would be ‘ economic suicide ‘ and would put ‘ millions of jobs at risk ‘

    What an absolute retard. As if the rest of the EU would want to stop us buying MORE of their goods, which is the case as we have a big trade deficit with them for a start.

    The one thing i do agree with thats come out of the EU recently is the commissioner who said ‘ MP’s (British) no nothing about how the EU works ‘


  17. Alex Macfie Says:

    @Michael’s post above shows exactly what I mean about any discussion on a specific EU law proposal almost always turning into a discussion about the EU itself. If you don’t agree with the proposals, lobby against them. If this were a UK government proposal, no doubt there would be lobbying attempts to change it. But this would almost certainly not be accompanied by calls to dismantle the UK state or withdraw Wales, or Scotland, or Yorkshire, or wherever you happened to be living, from the UK and declare an independent state. It’s high time EU law was discussed in the same way as UK law, with the focus on the law itself and not on the institutions.


  18. Justin Says:

    I am sorry Alex, I don’t agree. Discussion of EU’s institutions is merited if they seem undemocratic or unfit for purpose. UK law has often been discussed with refrence to institutions of the UK. Many Lib Dems want an end to an unelected House of Lords, and this has been raised when the Lords has tried to stop legislation governments are keen on. Under those circumstances no one is telling people who want to reform or abolish the Lords to, shut up about it and just discuss the law. Which is what your doing.

    People have discussed the ins and outs of the House of Commons as an institution when an unpopular law goes through. So if people think that an unpopular/a law that has not been thought through, is going through the institutions of the EU, it is perfectly legitimate to discuss those institutions.


  19. Alex Macfie Says:

    I’m all in favour of discussing EU institutions. What I object to is the way every discussion of these or any EU law automatically turns into a discussion ABOUT THE EU ITSELF. In other words, the automatic reaction of some people to any bad EU proposal is “leave the EU”. It’s as if any discussion of bad UK proposed law or flaw with UK institutions became a call to abolish the UK itself, rather than a call to reform laws or institutions.
    Of course, it would help if EU Parliamentary elections were fought on the basis of what MEPs of different parties would do in the European Parliament to shape EU law and institutions. Sadly that doesn’t happen, and it looks like once again, next they are going to be fought on the question of whether the UK should be part of the EU, a question that MEPs have absolutely no influence over. It’s as if UK general elections were fought only over whether the UK is a good thing, with no discussion over what different parties would do in government if elected. And on this I disagree with my own party’s strategy: the Lib Dems should be fighting the Euro election on what they, as Liberals, would do to shape the EU, rather than on a simple pro-EU platform, which essentially accepts the UKIP/Eurosceptic narrative that the only positions anyone can take on the EU are uncritical acceptance or withdrawal. We should be challenging that lie by fighting Euro elections on the issues in the same way as we fight UK elections.


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