Caroline Flint, the Minister for Europe, made a stunning admission in the House of Commons yesterday – that she has not read the Lisbon Treaty. During a European Committee session, the following exchange (not yet online) took place between the Minister and Mark Francois, her shadow:
"Mr Francois: Given that the treaty is integral to the documents we are debating this afternoon, I am a little surprised at the continuing vagueness of the Minister's answer. This is a really simple question: has the Minister read the elements of the Lisbon treaty that relate to defence?
Caroline Flint: I have read some of it but not all of it.
Mr Francois: What!
Caroline Flint: I have been briefed on some of it.
Mr Francois: That is an extraordinary answer. The Minister for Europe has not read all of the Lisbon treaty. That is an absolutely extraordinary revelation. It is a bit like the Irish Prime Minister saying that he had not read it before the referendum. That is an incredible answer. If she is Minister for Europe, why has she not read the treaty?"
The Lisbon Treaty provides for: a new EU president; an EU foreign minister and EU diplomatic service; the European Court of Justice having jurisdiction over key elements of criminal legislation (including arrests and sentencing); more powers for Europol; the EU setting uniform standards for asylum seekers; legally binding status for the Charter of Fundamental Rights; the abolition of national vetoes and new areas where no veto will apply; and a ratchet clause allowing the EU to abolish any non-defence national veto without a new Treaty.
Caroline Flint may not have read the Treaty, but she has offered opinion on it readily:
"I believe that the Lisbon treaty is good for the United Kingdom and good for Europe."
"The Lisbon treaty provides a simpler, more streamlined EU."
(Both House of Commons, 13 October 2008.)
When Ken Clarke admitted he hadn't read the Maastricht Treaty he got into a spot of bother. I wonder how this story will run.
Update: The debate took place in European Committee B. Immediately following the exchange above, the (Labour) Chairman Eric Illsley intervened:
"The Chairman: Order. The Lisbon treaty is not entirely relevant to the documents under debate.
Mr. Francois: With respect, it is mentioned a number of times in the documents.
The Chairman: It is related, but it is not the document under debate this afternoon. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind.
Caroline Flint: The Lisbon treaty’s mutual assistance clause, article (1)49, is in accordance with article 51 of the UN charter, which states that countries have
“the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs”,
and as such—
Mr. Francois: You are supposed to be Minister for Europe; how can you not have read the treaty?
The Chairman: Order."