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Nick Clegg should say No Thank EU – UPDATE

August 8th, 2013 Posted in EU, EU Politics, Europe, Uncategorized by

So not only did Conservative MP Anna Soubry act in defiance of UK parliament when she hot-footed it over to Luxembourg to negotiate on behalf of the UK at a meeting of European ministers. We now know that her support for the European Commissions proposals at that meeting was decisive in giving the green light to the Tobacco Products Directive.

In a letter (dated July 31st) to Bill Cash MP (Chairman, House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee) Soubry says:

“The committee asked whether the UK’s support was vital to a General Approach being agreed” (at the Council of European health ministers meeting on 21st June)…..

“Four member states – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland and Romania were unable to offer their support, which meant that the UK’s support (of the Tobacco Products Directive) was decisive in forming a qualified majority” 

Given that we know Ms Soubry asked for, but was refused, a waiver from the relevant House of Commons committee, her statement should more accurately read :

Four member states – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland and Romania were unable to offer their support, which meant that my support  (of the Tobacco Products Directive), acting on my own and in defiance of UK parliament, was decisive in forming a qualified majority

Quite how one woman – sticking two fingers up to the UK democratic process – was able to waltz into a room and declare she was negotiating on behalf of the United Kingdom – when, in fact she clearly had no authority to do so whatsoever –  will be beyond most people’s comprehension.

That her role was then “decisive” in “forming a qualified majority” at the meeting will shock and infuriate in equal measure.

In her letter Soubry goes on to explain what she thought was likely to happen had the UK abstained at the meeting.

“The Committee asked me what I thought was likely to happen to the Directive (had UK not offered support).

Whilst this would not have immediately killed of the Directive, which I believe will bring important public health benefits to the UK, it would almost certainly have represented a serious set-back. It would have re-opened the debate across all aspects of the Directive…

It would also have made it very unlikely that the revised Directive would have been adopted by Council and the European Parliament within the terms of the current European Parliament and the European Commission.”

That’s it. If Soubry had abstained (surely the correct thing to do when the proposed European legislation in question is still under scrutiny by the UK parliament?), the Directive would have continued but at a slower pace. Given the complexities involved; and indeed the far reaching unintended consequences of  the proposals, a bit more time thinking and discussing before acting is almost certainly what’s needed.

It’s hard to know if Soubry was set up/hoodwinked/sweet-talked into taking the action she did  (junior ministers come and go but bureaucrats, it seems, go on forever) or if her own obsession with plain packaging/incompetence was the cause.

What ever the reason, the fact that her role at the Council meeting of European Ministers was “decisive” in determining the outcome of that meeting is a very serious turn of events.   And whilst it is important to understand how and why we arrived at this sad and sorry place (if we are to avoid such catastrophic errors in the future) the real question is what will the UK coalition government, the European Commission and indeed MEPs themselves do to put all of this right?

7 Responses to “Nick Clegg should say No Thank EU – UPDATE”

  1. Chris Says:

    Soubry should resign but much more importantly, the DoH staff behind this should be fired. In fact, I see no reason to stop at just those involved in this particularly unpleasant insult to democracy.

    Unfortunately, our elected representatives cannot distinguish between protecting spending on health provision and ring fencing the funding of an arrogant corrupt bureaucracy so the civil servants are apparently invulnerable as well as unaccountable. And they wonder why people are not engaged by politics?

  2. Angela Harbutt Says:

    I agree that Soubry should no longer be in charge of this brief. Her performance at Mr Cash’s committee was woeful and her lack of preparation for it shows total contempt for the meeting or a complete lack of appreciation for the seriousness of the situation. Either way her belief that e-cigarettes had “fallen out of” TPD shows she is not across her subject.

    This however will not rescue the dire situation we face with regard to this Directive. To return to my previous football analogy, this game needs to be abandoned and the game replayed from the start. Anything less will invite ridicule of and contempt for the European legislative process as well as, ultimately, legal action from those affected.

  3. Junican Says:

    The question in my mind is whether or not Soubry signed any document confirming the UK Government’s agreement that the directive should proceed, and, if so, did she have the personal authority to sign it? She herself said that she had spoken to no other ministerial colleagues in making the decision to go to Luxembourg without the proper consultation being made or waived. So which of her senior Ministers agreed that she should? It is almost incredible that the Health Minister himself did not agree that she should.
    But TREATIES are funny things. The Government of the day, and not Parliament, enter into treaties. Thus, despite the fact that she failed to consult, there may in fact be no real reason that she should consult if she does not want to.

    In other words, it may well be that her failure to consult is no more than an internal matter. In which case, the UK Government’s approval of the directive stands, unless the Government actually un-approves it.

    I suspect that it was no accident that these events took place only a little before the summer recess. Also, why was the MEP debate brought forward to September?

    If the Government itself was involved in these dirt tricks, then there is not a lot that can be done about it, especially if the Cabinet itself was involved.

  4. Clive Bates Says:

    The ‘general approach’ that the minister endorsed is an informal negotiating position – a signal to the European Parliament in advance of the first reading (likely on 10/11 Sept). The formal position-taking starts once the Council and Parliament commence negotiations. It is perfectly possible for the UK to enter a reservation about its necessarily tentative pre-scrutiny position. The French did exactly that on e-cigarettes. France did not want to hold up the position, but France does not support classifying e-cigarettes as medicines, so it said it would make a statement for the minutes and return to this issue during the negotiations with the European Parliament. In other words, it wanted to be supportive, but it does not regard this document as the settled will of the Council. UK government should do the same.

    You can see the French handling of its qualified support from its intervention at 58′ 15″ into the session.

  5. Chris Says:

    Thanks for the clarification Clive. I have read your piece on Soubry and have some sympathy with your position with respect to her. I do not generally call for resignations as I find the modern tendency to do so for the slightest of reasons less than helpful. However, I am concerned that this minister has no real grasp of the content of the material that she has endorsed. Her performance with Andrew Black in the House of Lords earlier this year is also cause for concern and I fear that she believes that she is being advised by infallible DoH experts. She isn’t and her testimony to that house, which included ridiculous claims about smoking bans and health benefits, was untruthful. She may not have intended to lie but she should be more critical and utilize a wider range of resources in order to form an opinion. I prefer my ministers to be inquiring and skeptical, especially those being advised by the DoH.

  6. Dan Says:

    Is Liberal Vision still resolutely pro-EU?

  7. Angela Harbutt Says:

    Dan. I am not certain that LV has ever been “resolutely” pro-EU. Liberal Vision is supportive of individual liberty, lower taxes and limited government (

    If an institution, on balance, helps us move towards a free-er and more liberal state then we are minded to be more supportive of that institution/group.

    We are not afraid to point out the failings of any group or institution however, if their actions move us away from those things we believe to be important.

    We also hold a range of views. Some LV contributors will hold that being in the EU – with all it’s faults – is better than being outside of it and believe that the UK should work to within the EU to reform it. Others hold the view that there comes a point where the negatives outweigh the positives. I think it is fair to say that these views will almost certainly alter according to the actions of the EU over any given period.