Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Lisbon Treaty and the Parliament Act

Dizzy has an interesting post in which he raises the possibility of the Lords voting for the Tory Amendment on a Lisbon Treaty Referendum. He then raises the issue of the Parliament act which he doesn't discuss and goes off in to discussion on the next General Election date.

I'm more intrigued by the possibility of Gordon invoking the Parliament Act. I am no constitutionalist so I may misunderstand what could happen next so please feel free to correct me.

The PA is designed to limit the power of the House of Lords and is really 2 acts, but that's detail you can read in the link. Traditionally the PA was aimed at making sure budgets and manifesto pledges could be implemented, but with a delay of 1 year if they were really contentious. It has only been used 7 times but has been threatened on a number of occasions.

So what happens if the Lords vote through the Tory amendment for a referendum. We will get a ping-pong with the HoC and eventually stalemate. At this point Gordon can invoke the Parliament Act, but on what grounds? Signing the Lisbon Treaty is not a manifesto pledge, not that Gordon bothers about such trivia, indeed many see the opposite as true and that as a pseudo constitution we should have a treaty.

Its not a money bill either, these go through on a 1 month delay. Its worth noting that the Speaker decides what is a money bill, but surely not even he could stoop that low?

So it looks like Gordon will have to ignore tradition and set a new precedent by invoking the act for no other reason than he needs it for his own credibility in Europe. In this case the HoL looks like the protector of the people's wishes.

So next we come to the signing of the Act into law. What would Her Majesty do? She is a traditionalist but would she be prepared to start a constitutional crises by refusing to sign it? Somehow I doubt it, and correctly so IMHO, but I'm sure it won't go through without some leaks to the press about how dischuffed she is.

So winding forward to the next GE and assuming a Tory win. Its always been assumed that the Tories couldn't unsign the treaty because of its legal status and we will be in the new EU by then, but given its history they could argue that it was illegally, or at least illegitimately, passed in to law. Could they then have a retrospective referendum and tell the EU to get stuffed?

Well that's my brain hurting now, but it does mean that we could, as the Chinese say, be living in interesting times very soon.


Mark Wadsworth said...

I thought the 1975 Referendum was retrospective, so that's not a problem is it?

'No Parliament can bind its successors or be bound by its predecessors' is another rule to remember.

The Great Simpleton said...


1975 was about staying in, not joining - a subtle difference - so it wasn't really retrospective. (It was the first ever vote I made and to my eternal shame I voted yes - how did I know as an 18 year old that when all the great and food say something is right that is a reason to object?)

You are right on tying future Parliaments, I missed that one. That should be one of the rejoinders that the Tories give when they talk about a future referendum. What do Labour care about those traditions though?