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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 October 2007, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Europe matters
On Sunday 21 October Andrew Marr interviewed Jim Murphy MP, Europe Minister

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Jim Murphy MP
Jim Murphy MP, Europe Minister

ANDREW MARR: Now then, red lines, opt-ins, emergency brakes, it sounds like the driving test from hell.

But it is of course more verbiage from another European treaty.

Gordon Brown said he didn't drink any champagne over there and it would last for a long time, but despite that the Lisbon Agreement is not over yet.

Here in Britain there's going to be weeks of parliamentary arguments, months probably, and if the newspapers are anything to go by, the pressure for a referendum is not going away.

Now in a moment I'm going to be talking to the Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, but first the Europe Minister Jim Murphy joins me from Glasgow.

Thank you very much indeed Mr. Murphy.

Can I start by asking whether it's true that under this new treaty the British parliament has a responsibility to promote the interests of the European Union? JIM MURPHY: No it doesn't, and we'll make that very clear in the final text. And that's an important point that was raised by one of the House of Commons select committees... ANDREW MARR: So that's gone... JIM MURPHY: ...to make that change, but what is clear Andrew is there's be a bigger power and a greater say for the UK Parliament and all domestic parliaments and sovereign parliaments across the European Union, a much bigger role for domestic parliaments.

ANDREW MARR: Can I ask you about the opt-out, opt-in situation? Britain is able to opt back in again into a lot of the controversial parts of this treaty in five years' time.

Can you give me an assurance that if Labour is in power in five years' time you won't do that?

JIM MURPHY: Well Andrew, these opt-ins and opt-outs and protocols are much more complicated than the rules of rugby, as we saw last evening.

But the fact is that we've negotiated a very specific deal which says that the UK has a different version of the treaty to the rest of the countries of the European Union, and we've made it very clear we're locked into individual issues and individual policies if it's in our national interests to do so.

So we're the only country that has that series of opt-ins, opt-outs and protocols, and we'll make sure that we do what's right for Britain, so we'll make individual decisions unlike the rest of the countries of the European Union.

ANDREW MARR: Well the reason I asked that is clearly that a lot of people feel that these opt-outs, this subtly different treaty isn't going to stick for very long, and that it's legally challengeable.

Now you say that it can't be challenged by the European Court of Justice, and yet you won't publish, as I understand it, the legal advice on which that's based.

JIM MURPHY: Well we take the same approach on legal advice as all governments on all European treaties, but the fact is that there's a legally binding protocol in the charter of fundamental rights for example, which will have the same force as European treaties.

So that is very clear indeed. Andrew, the fact is that all countries of the European Union, all 27, and have very clearly understood what the United Kingdom wished for, the United Kingdom demanded. Because we said very clearly, unless we get a UK specific version of the treaty, with our own opt-ins, opt-outs and protocols which we thought was in our national interest, then we would veto the treaty. And if we had vetoed the treaty it couldn't go ahead in any country.

ANDREW MARR: But you don't know how the European Court of Justice is going to be able to press ahead, making case law the whole time, this is a growing, ever more powerful institution with the ability, according to a great many people who know about these things, to eat into the deal that you've just done in Lisbon.

JIM MURPHY: No that's not the case at all Andrew, because everyone accepts..

ANDREW MARR: You can't clearly really know that, can you?

JIM MURPHY: Well everyone accepts apart from the British Conservative Party that the legally-binding protocol that we'd have in a charter of fundamental rights, has the same legal status.

So it, if you like, inoculates UK social and domestic legislation against any further competence creep or the European Court of Justice, or in fact any UK court, to rely on the charter of fundamental rights. So it's very clear in a legal sense indeed.

ANDREW MARR: 95 per cent of this was the same as the old constitution. And indeed these red lines had been negotiated under the old constitution as well, they're very, very similar.

And yet, despite all of that, Tony Blair said it was right to have a referendum. With so many people in the country wanting one isn't it the clear, decent, honest thing simply to give them what they're asking for?

JIM MURPHY: Well we've only of course ever had one national referendum in the UK and it was back in 1975. And what is clear...

ANDREW MARR: Lots of people would like another one.

JIM MURPHY: ...is that this treaty is different in legal structure, legal consequence and policy content, than the old constitution. The old constitution was abolishing the European Union as we know it, refounding on a single document. It had the flags, the anthems, the foreign minister, and it was an entirely different approach.

And the fact is, and we've moved away from that, all 27 countries of the European Union have said that the constitutional approach has been abandoned. But the UK has moved away further than any other Member State of the European Union. We've seen that, we do need reform in the European Union, and it's why ultimately we need the reform treaty.

ANDREW MARR: So can you just confirm two things, (1) that there will be a permanent president now, and (2) can you tell us in how many areas we've given up the national veto?

JIM MURPHY: Well on the issue of a permanent president, currently we have a rotating president every six months. In future that person will serve for a total of two and a half years.

That's not the radical constitution change that the Conservatives alleged it is. Instead of someone chairing the committee for six months they'll do it for two and a half years. And on the issues...

ANDREW MARR: It will be an individual though, won't it?

JIM MURPHY: ... it will be an individual. On the issue of...

ANDREW MARR: Tony Blair, possibly?

JIM MURPHY: I think Tony's busy doing many other good things at the moment.

ANDREW MARR: Would you like to see him doing that?

JIM MURPHY: On the issue of the qualified majority voting you asked how many policies. There are 20 specific policy areas where the United Kingdom wants to see quicker decision-making. For example on aid policy, at the moment we have to march at the pace of the slowest. We have to get unanimity of all 27 before the European Union can get involved in distributing that aid effectively.

From now on we'll be able to do that much more quickly, that's in our interests and others. But Europe, Andrew, Europe does need to reform. The fact is that it's top-heavy, is relatively inefficient, there are too many commissioners, and this reform treaty does streamline an awful lot of those processes.

ANDREW MARR: And, because his name is being mentioned everywhere, if Tony Blair was proposed would the government support that, or would it be an embarrassment?

JIM MURPHY: Well, neither on the basis that Tony's already busy as an envoy in the Middle East and he's a fantastically important job to do and we all wish him, across all the parties throughout Britain, the best of luck in doing that important job.

ANDREW MARR: That sounds like you want him to stay there and not to come back. Thank you very much Jim Murphy.


NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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