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EU referendum: Lords say Government's approach to EU reform is 'recipe for confusion'

The Government needs to rethink the way it will manage the renegotiation with the EU, ahead of an in/out referendum, according to a Lords report out today.

The House of Lords EU Committee outlines several areas of uncertainty over the UK Government's approach to negotiations: whether on the timetable for a referendum; the roles to be played by the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Foreign Secretary respectively; how any agreement will be made legally binding; or the details of the reform deal itself.

The report concludes that treaty change is not feasible before the referendum, and urges the Government to spell out clearly how it intends to ensure that any deal will be legally binding.

Finally, the report, entitled “The referendum on UK membership of the EU: assessing the reform process”, welcomes the Government's commitment to enhance the role of national parliaments as a key plank of its reform programme. Yet it should explore means by which national parliaments can make a positive contribution to the EU, rather than simply blocking proposals they don't like.

Commenting on the report the Chair of the EU Committee, Lord Boswell, said:

“The aim of this report is to turn the spotlight not just onto the Government's proposed EU reforms, but how practically it will go about achieving them. What we have discovered is that the Whitehall process is so unclear as to be a recipe for confusion – we don't know who is in charge within Government, who they will be talking to at EU level, or what the timetable for agreement is.

We're also concerned about the lack of transparency. It's vital that Parliament and the public are kept informed, and are not simply presented with a done deal at the end of the process.

As part of that, we want the Government to spell out how, given that there is no realistic prospect of treaty change before the referendum, it will guarantee that any negotiation deal is legally binding.

We want the Government to reconsider its approach, and put transparency and accountability at the heart of the process. Only then will UK citizens be in a position to make an informed decision in the referendum.”

Other points from the report include:

  • The Committee supports the Government's efforts to ensure that the referendum takes place as soon as possible. It would be highly undesirable to hold the referendum during the UK Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2017.
  • The Government needs to be clear who its key negotiating partners are in the EU institutions and other Member States.
  • The Government should fully involve the UK's devolved institutions during the negotiations.

Copies of the report are now available on the Committee website. The PDF version is here and the HTML version is here.

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