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What is the significance of the withdrawal of the whip and deselection?

One of the significant results of Thursday’s ’s proceedings in the House of Commons is that 21 Conservative MPs had the whip withdrawn for voting against the Government. These included the grandson of Winston Churchill, Nicholas Soames, and the Father of the House, Kenneth Clarke. Soames had only voted against his own party 3 times in 37 years whilst Ken Clarke has served in the Governments of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron, previously holding the titles of Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Ken Clarke is the Father of the House (the title given to the longest serving male MP) and has now had the Conservative Whip withdrawn after 50 years as a Conservative MP.

This led to criticism of the government from across the House, with reports that even Theresa May had said the MPs affected should be reinstated with the Conservative Whip. The most passionate criticism of the Government, however, came from Labour MP Jess Phillips who called Conservative MPs ‘cowards’ for watching the withdrawals without protest:

The ‘Whip’ is the term given for the right to sit in a political party in Parliament. Sitting with a political party means that you can use their often significant resources. However, it also means that MPs are expected to ‘toe the party line’ and vote with the party, particularly on their key policy issues.

Having the whip withdrawn is one of last resorts that parties have to maintain discipline within the party. Having the whip withdrawn is relatively rare. Some of the famous examples of this are:

George Galloway (2003): Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 after being found guilty of five counts of bringing the party into disrepute. This expulsion came after 36 years of membership. Galloway was an outspoken critic of Tony Blair’s decision (ratified by Parliament) to send troops to Iraq and had backed anti-war campaigners to stand against Labour in the next election.

The Maastricht Rebels (1992): Eight members of John Major’s Conservative Party consistently failed to back his call for the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. The Maastricht Treaty created the European Union (formerly EEC). There were 22 rebels, and given the fact that Major only had a majority of 18, they were a significant thorn in the Prime Minister’s side. A total of 10 MPs had the whip withdrawn for failing to support the PM over the treaty.

Ken Livingstone (2000): Ken Livingstone wanted to run as Labour candidate for Mayor of London in 2000. He had previously been Leader of the Greater London Council between 1981 and 1986 and had significant experience of politics in London. However, Labour decided to select Frank Dobson as their candidate. Livingstone declared that he would run independently and as a consequence had the Labour whip withdrawn. Livingstone went on to win the 2000 and 2004 mayoral elections, being made Labour’s official candidate in 2004.

Alongside having the whip withdrawn these MPs are now likely to be deselected – meaning they cannot stand as Conservative MPs in the next election. This is a significant punishment. It is extremely rare for MPs to be elected to the House of Commons without the support of a major party. In fact, the only MP currently elected as an Independent in Sylvia Hermon, MP for North Down.

Sylvia Hermon is the only current MP who was elected as an Independent.

The current situation has led to cries of Government hypocrisy. For example, the Prime Minister voted against Theresa May’s deal on two occasions whilst Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, voted against Theresa May’s deal on all three occasions.

Nicholas Soames, one of the MPs to have the whip withdrawn, pointed out the hypocrisy in the Prime Minister’s move.

The impact of deselection is hard to tell. Many local Conservative Associations seem content with the decision. For example, Philip Hammond’s Runnymead and Weybridge association have said deselection is the right decision. However, parties have to carefully balance the views of their grassroots members with those of the electorate who will decide their fate at the next election. Whilst the move to the right may please many traditional Tory voters and therefore fend of the challenge from the Brexit Party, it may lead to disillusionment with those who believe a carefully managed Brexit is essential and are willing to accept further extensions to that end. A General Election will arrive soon, that much is for certain. With it will come a chance to test the direction the decisions the Prime Minister has made. It is important to note that current polls see the Conservatives clearly in the lead. The current estimate from Electoral Calculus is that an election would result in a Conservative Majority of 50.

What is Standing Order 24?

Yesterday Parliament voted to take control of the parliamentary agenda. The Government was defeated by 328 to 301 with 21 Conservative MPs voting against the government – even despite threats of having the whip withdrawn and being deselected by the Government

A number of prominent Conservative Backbenchers spoke forcefully about their treatment by the Government:

“If he [the PM] thinks the device of withdrawing the whip this evening is going to change my mind or that of my right honorable friends, he has got another thing coming. It will be treated with the contempt it deserves”

Dominic Grieve did not hold back in his criticism of the Prime Minister

During the debate Jacob Rees-Mogg was criticized for treating Parliament with derision by taken up a sedentary position:

This led to a number of humourous memes:

Yesterday’s motion means that today the House of Commons could introduce a bill to prevent the Government taking the UK out of the EU without a deal. This occurred with the bill passing all three readings in the House of Commons and it now goes to the House of Lords.

Constitutionally, yesterday’s vote was extremely significant and was a rare example of an emergency debate under Standing Order 24. Standing Orders are the procedural rules that the House of Commons follows. These rules are decided by the House and can be amended by the House.

Standing Order 24 allows for an MP to apply to the Speaker of the House of Commons for an emergency debate.

The Speaker of the House of Commons is pivotal in granting debates under Standing Order 24

It is up to the discretion of the Speaker as to whether or not the debate should be granted and this is a high bar. Since 1979 there have been around 50 debates under the order.

It now a seems likely that the bill will pass and we move on to the next stage in the drama. The PM confirmed he would bring forward a motion under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (2011) to hold an early General Election, but, incredibly, it appears the the opposition will vote against it, saying they will not call an election until the no-deal bill has passed.

The Week Ahead in Parliament

The week ahead is likely to be one of the most fascinating in British Parliamentary history. It is not clear what will happen, or even how things will happen – what is clear is that this may be the most significant week in parliament this century.

Boris Johnson’s request to prorogue Parliament has divided both Parliament and the country. A number of protests have taken place across the country.

An Anti-Prorogation rally outside Downing Street

The government argue that prorogation (temporarily suspending Parliament) is a normal process. To an extent this is true. Although elections must take place every five years, each Parliamentary Session normally lasts around two years. The current session has lasted since July 20th 2017 and is the longest since 1651. However, the timing (INSERT days before Brexit) and the length – five weeks as opposed to few days – lean towards suggesting this is a political ploy to limit parliamentarians ability to block a no deal Brexit.

This prorogation will be significantly longer than those in recent history.


However, there are a number of things they may happen this week.

  1. Legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit

Legislation normally takes many months to pass from start to finish. However, it is possible for legislation to be passed very quickly. For example, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill in 2014 passed all its House of Commons stages in one day.


However, in the current circumstances, in will be extremely difficult for legislation to be passed. To do so, a number of hurdles need to be overcome:

a) Control needs to be taken over the Parliamentary Agenda

The agenda of Parliament is normally controlled by the Government. In order to be able to take control of the agenda they will need to apply to the Speaker, Jon Bercow, for an emergency date under Standing Order 24. It is likely Bercow will allow such a request, given his comments that prorogation was “a constitutional outrage”.

The current Speaker of the House of Commons has always been an outspoken advocate of the rights of Parliament. This week, however, this will put him at direct loggerheads with the Executive.

MPs could then introduce the bill for its First Reading, with the Second Reading taking place on Wednesday.


b) Numbers

It is clear that there is distinct opposition within Parliament to a No Deal Brexit. This combined with the fact that Boris Johnson, with the support of the DUP, only has a majority of 1, suggests legislation could be passed.

However, it is important to note that there are some Labour MPs who do support the government’s position on a no deal Brexit. For example, veteran Labour MP Kate Hoey is a passionate advocate of Brexit, whilst MPs like Lisa Nandy recognise they are in leave supporting seats. These MPs may not vote against an opposition motion, but there is a distinct possibility that they may abstain, making legislation harder to pass.


In addition, on Sunday Evening Boris Johnson declared that a Conservative MP who voted in support of opposition motions this week would have the whip withdrawn and would be deselected, meaning they could not stand as Conservatives at the next General Election (which is likely to be held before the end of the year). It is unlikely this threat will have an impact on all. For example, Oliver Letwin has already said that he will stand down at the next election so this is little deterrent.

David Gauke is one MP who has said he will vote against a no-deal Brexit and could face de-selection.

c) The House of Lords

Any bill needs to be agreed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Whilst in the House of Commons the Speaker is in control and can limit the time spent on speeches, this is far less the case in the Lords which has a more informal set up. This will give the chance for Lords who support the government (of which there are many) to filibuster the bill. The House of Lords does not usually sit on a Friday and it is unlikely a bill will reach the Lords until Thursday. This leaves only two days for the bill to go through all of its required stages – which is extremely hard to imagine at present.

However. If it does, the bill will receive Royal Assent on Monday and the government will have been defeated on its current Brexit plans.

2. A Motion of No Confidence

Failing an attempt to pass legislation, there is the possibility that a Motion of No Confidence will be held against the Government. This will be covered in Wednesday’s Blog, but, if successful, will see a 14 day period in which either a government (new or old) can secure the confidence of the House or the government resigns and a General Election occurs.

There are very few weeks in parliamentary history that have been entered into under such a cloud of uncertainty. The only certainty is that it will b enthralling.

The impartiality of the Speaker and the Denison Convention

The Speaker of the House of Commons is an elected Member of Parliament but is meant to remain politically neutral so that he can adequately discharge his or her constitutional duties.

John Bercow has been Speaker of the House of Commons since 2009

The current Speaker, John Bercow, has been consistently criticised for failing to adhere to this duty of neutrality with some notable examples.

For example, in February 2017 Bercow gave in speech from the chair in which he made clear that he was opposed to the granting of a State Visit to US President, Donald Trump. As Speaker of the House of Commons Bercow is one of three key holders to Westminster Hall, holding an effective veto over its use for speeches by foreign dignitaries. From the chair, he controversially made clear that he would be opposed to any such speech by President Trump because of his “migrant ban” saying ” as far as this place is concerned, I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and sexism and our support for equality before the law an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons”.

The Speaker has also been criticised for impartiality over Brexit. For example, on the 18th March 2019 he prevented a third vote taking place on Theresa May’s deal. In doing so he was quoting precedent from the 18th century which suggests that a vote cannot take place on the same issue twice:

However, commentators noted that the Speaker had allowed multiple votes on other issues before. He was heavily critcised with one Conservative MP, Tim Loughton, calling it ” most serious constitutional crisis I have seen in my 22 years in this house” .

Bercow’s perceived bias also led to a tense confrontation with a Conservative Backbencher Adam Holloway who criticised a sticker that he alleged was in the Speaker’s personal car.

At important mechanism for the ensuring the impartiality of the Speaker is the existence of the Denison Convention. This is named after John Denison, Speaker between 1857 and 1872. This is the convention that if there is a tie in the House of Commons the Speakers always votes to:

  • Ensure the Status Quo
  • Continue Debate

This is important because it means a Speaker would vote differently depending on when the tie in question happened. For example, if there was a tie at Second Reading the Speaker would vote in favour of the motion. This is because by ensuring that it went to Committee, Report Stage and Third Reading, the Speaker would be ensuring that the issue was guaranteed further debate. However, if a tie emerged at Third Reading the Speaker might well cast his vote differently on the very same issue – because he would vote for the status quo.

It is extremely rare for the Denison Convention to have to be deployed. One reason for this is the power that the government usually has over the parliamentary process. As a result of the First Past The Post System the Government usually has a large majority and can control the Parliamentary agenda. This situation was coined the ‘Elective Dictatorship’ by Lord Hailsham. This means the government are very rarely defeated and, if they are likely to be so, they will withdraw their plans. An example of this is when Theresa May decided to withdraw a meaningful vote on her deal in December 2018 as it was clear that she would lose.

However, in the event of a hung parliament, this is less the case. This is obviously no more clear than over Brexit that has seen a number of very close divisions. However, the closest division occurred on 3rd April 2019 when a vote on whether to hold more indicative cores resulted in a tie of 310 to 310. The Speaker casted his vote against more indicative votes (as this is an unusual process).

He stated “in accordance with precedent and the and principle that important decisions should not be taken expect by a majority, I cast my vote with the noes”.

This was the first time the that the Denison Convention had come into use since 1993 when it was used to decide a vote on the Maastricht Treaty by 317 to 317. However, it later transpired that there had been a miscount and the vote was amended.

With no clear sign that Brexit divisions are diminishing, it is by no means certain that the Denison Convention will be relied upon again. At least in its exercise, no-one was questioning the action of the Speaker.

Voyeurism (Offences) Act (2019) – An example of a legislative process

Background

In 2017 a girl called Gina Martin was at a gig with her friends and family. It was a hot day and she was wearing a skirt. During the gig, two men put a mobile phone between her legs and took a picture of her crotch. This act, which is known as ‘upskirting’, was done entirely without her consent. Martin reported it the the Police, but, to her shock, was told that no law had been broken and the man involved could not be arrested. There is a law of ‘outraging public decency’ but the alleged offence did not meet the criteria. Had the man made any physical contact with her an arrest would be possible under other established sexual offenses. This was clearly an area of law that needed clarity as existing law was not fit for purpose.

Gina Martin (right) with a friend at the festival.

Martin shared her story on social media and many women responded with similar stories. It seemed that upskirting was far more prominent than Martin had been aware. An online petition was launched which reached over 50,000 signatures.

Passage

Wera Hobhouse, a Liberal Democrat MP, took on he issue and put forward a Private Members Bill.

The issue was taken up by Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse who in March 2018 introduced a Private Members Bill that sought to criminalise upskirting. Normally, Private Members Bills have a very difficult legislative path and are unlikely to pass. However, after reviewing the issue, the Government decided that they would actively support the bill. This made it much more likely that it would pass.

First Reading – The First Reading took place on the 21.06.2018. No debate takes place during the First Reading but the Second Reading was scheduled for June 2018.

Second Reading – During the Second Reading of the bill a controversial moment occurred. Private Members Bills can be stopped in their passage by the objection of just a single MP. To the disgust of many, a Conservative Backbencher called Christopher Chope objected:

Sir Christopher Chope was widely derided for objecting to the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill at Second Reading.


Chope later explained that he was not objecting in regards to the issue of the bill itself. He said that he was objecting to the fact that the bill was being pushed through second reading without a debate. Chope said:

” The government has been hijacking time that is rightfully that of backbenchers. This is about who controls the House of Commons on Fridays and that’s where I am coming from. I actually support the Bills that were before the house. Four of the 26 Bills that fell at the same time were my own. But this is something I have fought for in most of my time as an MP and it goes to the very heart of the power balance between the government and Parliament. The government is abusing parliamentary time for its own ends and in a democracy this is not acceptable. The government cannot just bring in what it wants on the nod. We don’t quite live in the Putin era yet.”

The Second Reading eventually took place on 03.07.2018 and the motion passed without a division.

Committee Stage – The Public Bill Committee Stage took place between 10.07.2018 and the 12.07.2018. The Committee was made up of 18 members, including Christopher Chope. The Committee heard from a number of experts and stakeholders including:

  • Representatives from the Crown Prosecution Service
  • The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan
  • Professor Clare McGlynn from the Law School of Durham University

During the Committee Stage some amendments were made to the bill. For example, the proposed offence was limited only to when a person over 18 did it for the purposes of sexual gratification. An amendment that required the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue guidance to police forces was also passed.

Report Stage – The Report Stage in the House of Commons took place on 05.09.2018. Debate took place over a number of issues, including whether perpetrators of the offence should be placed on the Sex Offenders Register.

Grand Committee Stage – As the bill was an ‘English and Welsh’ only issue a Grand Committee Stage took place directly after the Report Stage. This meant that only English and Welsh MPs could vote on further amendments. The Committee consented to the Bill with no amendments.

Third Reading – At 19.44 on the 05.08.2018 (the same day as the Report Stage and Grand Committee Stage) the bill had its Third Reading. The Bill was passed on a voice vote as no members objected.

Lords First Reading – The bill had its first reading in the Lords the very next day. Second Reading was set for late October.

Lords Second Reading – The Second Reading took place on the 23.10.2018. Some key points were made. For example, members of the Lords said that the requirement of a motive of ‘sexual gratification’ could leave a loophole if a picture was taken simply for another purpose, such as for financial gain. The bill passed its Second Reading and went to Committee Stage.

Lords Committee Stage – The Lords Committee Stage took place on the 26.11.2018. As usual in the Lords, it was a committee of the whole house who sat. No amendments were placed on the bill.

In the Lords the whole house can sit on Committee Stages.

Lords Report Stage – The Lords Report Stage took place on the 18.12.2018. This was a straightforward affair because there were no amendments to consider from the Committee Stage. In fact, the Report Stage amounted to one speech with no interventions.

Lords Third Reading – The Third Reading of the Bill took place on 15.01.2019. The bill was passed on a voice vote.

Royal Assent – The bill received Royal Assent on 12.02.2019. The bill is very short, as it is limited to the specific offence of ‘upskirting’.

The bill went through all of its parliamentary stages without a division in either house. This is a clear indication that it was accepted that the issue was a gap in the law that needed fixing.

The full bill can be read here:

Results of the Bill

Gina Martin was rightly praised for bringing the issue to public prominence. She could have been like many other young women who have grown up accepting sexual harassment as ‘just the way it is’. However, she was determined to make a difference and with the help of Wera Hobhouse, she was able to do so. In doing so, she may well have prevented other young women going through the hurt and anguish that she was forced to go through.

Upskirting is now a criminal offence that is punishable by up to two years in prison. The most serious offences could also result in the offender being place on the Sex Offenders Register.

What factors determine the primacy of the House of Commons in Parliament?

Parliament is made up of three constituent parts: the House of Lords, the House of Commons and the Crown-in-Parliament. Traditionally, the House of Lords and Crown were the dominant institutions in Parliament. Firstly, this was because Parliament only sat on the say so of the monarch. For example, when Charles I recalled Parliament in 1640 it was the first Parliament to sit in eleven years.

In 1642 Charles I entered the House of Commons and tried to arrest five of its members.

The House of Lords developed from the Medieval ‘Great Council’ that advised the monarch on matters of state. It was made up of nobles and churchmen. The House of Commons developed in the 13th and 14th centuries and was made up of representatives from the boroughs and shires of England.

The House of Lords remained undoubtedly the dominant House of Parliament until the Great Reform Act of 1832. After this, the trajectory of the powers of the two houses altered, with the Commons increasing and the Lords on the decline.

At the State Opening of Parliament Black Rod (the Queen’s Representative) ceremonially has the door of the House of Commons slammed in his face. This is designed to portray the independence of the House of Commons.

Today, although the House of Lords is called the ‘Upper Chamber’, the House of Commons is undoubtedly the dominant house. There are a number of reasons for this:


1. The Parliament Acts

Between 1909 and 1911 a constitutional crisis emerged over the refusal of the House of Lords to pass Chancellor David Lloyd George’s ‘people’s budget’. The crisis eventually ended with the passing of the Parliament Act (1911). This act removed the power of the House of Lords to block legislation and limited it to delaying legislation for two years. In 1949 the delaying power of the House of Lords was reduced to just one year. This means that if the House of Commons passes the same act for two consecutive parliamentary years, they can use the Parliament Act to bypass the House of Lords. The Parliament Act has only been used on four occasions:

War Crimes Act (1991) – This allowed UK courts to try suspected crimes committed on behalf of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

European Parliamentary Elections Act (1999) – This changed the voting system used in European Parliamentary Elections in the UK from First Past the Post to the D’Hondt method of proportional representation.

Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act (2000) – This equalized the age of consent for homosexual sex with that of heterosexual sex .

Hunting Act (2004) – This prohibited the use of dogs in the hunting of wild mammals (especially foxes).

Even though it has only been used four times, the very existence of the Parliament Act means that the House of Lords is likely to back down rather than risk the Act being imposed by the House of Commons, meaning its existence is extremely significant. 

2. Financial Privilege

An important parliamentary convention between the two houses is that the House of Commons is solely responsible for financial matters. For example, each year the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents his Budget. This outlines how the government is going to spend and raise money for the year. By convention, the House of Lords do not vote against the Budget.

In 2015 the convention was severely tested when the House of Lords voted against a government motion to cut tax credits. They justified this by saying they had voted against a statutory instrument and not a bill and therefore the financial privilege convention did not apply. Although this was technically correct, the House of Lords were clearly pushing constitutional boundaries in their actions.

The then Chancellor, George Osbrone, was incredibly critical of the House of Lords for rejecting the Tax Credits cuts he planned.

3. The Salisbury Convention

The Salisbury Convention dictates that the House of Lords does not vote against any bill that formed part of the government’s election manifesto. The reason for this is that if a bill formed part of a government’s election manifesto it is reasonable to believe that the passage of that bill is the expressed wish of the electorate. The Salisbury Convention was particularly important in the passage of the House of Lords Act (1999). This act removed all but 92 hereditary peers from the House of Lords and would almost certainly not have passed had the convention not existed.

The Salisbury Convention is complicated by the factor of Hung Parliaments. For example, in May 2010 no one party won the election and therefore no party could claim clear mandate from the electorate. A Coalition Government was formed between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. To enable this to happen, a Coalition Agreement was made between the two parties that merged their policies to create a compromise agreement. The Coalition Agreement was never put to the voters, so therefore the Salisbury Convention did not apply.

The Coalition Agreement was made after the 2010 General Election and its plans were therefore not subject to the Salisbury Convention.

Currently, the Conservatives are in government due to a Confidence and Supply agreement with the DUP. This is because the Conservatives only won 318 seats in the 2017 General Election and therefore not enough for a majority. Similarly to 2010-2017, the Salisbury Convention cannot be reasonably expected to apply because the governing party has not received a clear mandate from the electorate.

4. Reasonable Time Convention

An important convention that exists in the House of Lords is that Government business will be considered in “reasonable time”. The Government largely controls the business of the House of Commons and can therefore ensure that their business is prioritised. However, the Government’s control of the House of Lords is much less significant. By convention the Lords agree not to unreasonably delay Government business.

5. Secondary Legislation

Secondary Legislation is law created by the Government under the auspices of a bill that has previously been passed by Parliament. Secondary Legislation is essential in the carrying out of government functions as Parliament would not have time to debate and vote on every single governmental issue that needs clarification. For example, Secondary Legislation under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) might add a new drug to the proscribed list of substances. The most common form of Secondary Legislation are Statutory Instruments. Around 3,500 of these are passed every single year.

Although Secondary Legislation is scrutinised by the House of Lords, by convention it only votes against it in ‘exceptional circumstances’. This was another reason why the rejection of Tax Credits cuts by the House of Lords in 2015 was so controversial.

6. The Great Offices of State

It is now an accepted convention that the Great Offices of State will be filled from the House of Commons. The Great Offices of State are: Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

The last member of the House of Lords to hold one of the Great Offices of State was Lord Carrington. Between 1979 and 1982 Lord Carrington was Foreign Secretary but resigned in 1982 citing the convention of Individual Ministerial Responsibility for failing to recognise the Argentinian threat to the Falkland Islands.

Lords Carrington was the last holder of a Great Office of State to come from the House of Lords.

The last Prime Minister to govern from the House of Lords was the Marquess of Salisbury in 1902. It is now unthinkable that a Prime Minister could govern from the House of Lords because they would avoid direct scrutiny from the representatives of the the people.

7. Representative Function

The fact that the House of Commons contains the elected representatives of the people gives it a greater legitimacy than the House of Lords. Although the House of Lords contains a number of very eminent and respected figures, the fact that their judgement and performance cannot be held to account by the electorate reduces their political mandate. 

How is Britain’s position in the European Union unique?

Britain joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1973. A referendum was held in 1975 over whether Britain should remain. At that point 67.2% of Britons voted to remain in the E.E.C.

Since Britain’s accession into the E.E.C the organisation has changed dramatically. With the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 the E.E.C became the European Union which we would somewhat recognise today.

The European Union is not a simplistic organisation. It is incredibly complex. CGP Grey explains some of the complexities of the European Union in this excellent video:

A number of countries currently want to join the European Union. These include Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania. In order to join the European Union a candidate state has to meet a number of conditions. Each state:

  • Must be a demonstrably stable democracy. They must respect Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
  • Must have the consent of other EU Members in order to join.
  • Must show they are able to take on all the responsibilites of EU Membership. These include accepting the single currency (the Euro) and committing to free movement of people and goods.
  • Must accept all EU Rules and Regulations as they were at the time of their accession.

What is interesting in the case of Britain’s membership of the European Union is that Britain’s current legal status within the EU would not meet these conditions. This is because Britain has negotiate a number of ‘opt-outs’ from the expected conditions of EU membership:

Schengen Agreement

The Schengen Agreement creates an area in which citizens can travel without having to pass through customs and without having to produce a passport. Of 28 current EU Members 22 are members of the Schengen Area. Britain argued that, as an island, Britain was in a unique position that needed special consideration. Britain therefore opted out of the Schengen Agreement.

Countries in blue are members of the Schengen Area. Switzerland and Norway our members of the Schengen Area despite not being in the European Union.

Economic and Monetary Union

As part of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 it was agreed that a Single Currency would be introduced in the European Union. In 1999 the Euro was introduced and 19 of 28 EU Members currently use the Euro as their currency. The New Labour Government of Tony Blair were keen for Britain to adopt the Euro and promised a referendum on the issue. However, the policy was clearly unpopular and the party backed down over the issue.

Countries in blue use the Euro.

Area of Freedom, Justice and Security

The Area of Freedom, Justice and Security are a set of home and justice policies that all members sign up to implement. For example, members would be required to implement the same border controls and asylum policies. Britain has an opt-out for the full quota of policies, but does participate in some areas.

Countries in blue fully participate in the AFSJ.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights was signed in 2000. It codifies certain political, social and economic rights of citizens across the European Union. It also gives EU Court’s the power to strike down national laws that do not comply with the charter. Britain has an opt-out from the Charter, meaning EU Courts cannot overturn UK Statutes, meaning Parliament remains sovereign in the UK.

Countries in blue are fill signatories to the Charter of Fundamental Rights

In addition to these opt-outs Britain has a rebate that reduces the amount of money that Britain contributes to the EU Budget each year. The rebate was negotiated by the government of Margaret Thatcher in 1985 and sees a net reduction of 66% in the amount that Britain is expected to pay into the EU Budget.

Margaret Thatcher claimed a major political victory by winning a rebate for Britain’s contribution to the EU Budget.

As the Brexit Date of 29th March 2019 approaches an important consideration needs to be taken into account. If Britain in the future decides to rejoin the European Union, it will not be on her current terms. Britain will almost certainly be forced to adopt the Euro, the Schengen Agreement, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Area for Freedom, Justice and Security. In addition, Britain will be expected to pay the full quota of membership fees and would get no rebate on this amount.

If Britain does leave the European Union as planned, it is not something that can be fully reversed in the future. Britain, like the countries currently applying for membership, would have to fully comply with all the normal conditions of membership.