Page last updated at 18:22 GMT, Friday, 20 June 2008 19:22 UK

Brown offers EU treaty assurances

Mr Brown said the judge's request 'fits in with our timetable'

Britain will not ratify the EU treaty until the High Court has ruled on a bid to force a British referendum, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said.

A judgement on the High Court bid by tycoon Stuart Wheeler is due next week.

But a judge in the case earlier expressed "surprise" ministers were going ahead with ratification and asked that they "stay their hand".

Mr Brown said the request "fits in with our timetable" and "of course" it would not be ratified before the ruling.

The bill that would ratify the Lisbon Treaty passed its last Parliamentary hurdle in the House of Lords on Wednesday and gained Royal Assent on Thursday.

But the process is not technically completed until the "instruments of ratification" are deposited in Rome.

Referendum case

Government officials say the judge's letter and Mr Brown's comments do not change the original timetable to complete ratification and say it was always the aim to complete ratification in July, after the court judgement.

Friday's direction from High Court judge Lord Justice Richards appears to have been prompted by a letter from Treasury lawyers.

THE RATIFICATION PROCESS
Parliament approves bill to ratify treaty
The Queen gives Royal assent
The"instruments of ratification" are drawn up by the Foreign Office
These documents - three pages of goatskin parchment - are sent to the Queen
The Queen signs the front page and a warrant authorising them
The documents return to the Foreign Office and are signed by the foreign secretary
They are sent to the Crown Office in the House of Lords who affix the great seal
The documents return to the Foreign Office, are tied in a blue ribbon and bound in blue leather
They are sent to the British Embassy in Rome and then to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Only then is ratification complete

After the EU (Amendment) Act gained Royal Assent, they wrote to the High Court saying: "The government is now proceeding to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon."

In a direction published on Friday, Lord Justice Richards said: "The court is very surprised that the government apparently proposes to ratify, while the claimant's challenge to the decision not to hold a referendum on ratification is before the court.

"The court expects judgement to be handed down next week. The defendants are invited to stay their hand voluntarily until judgement."

He warned that if they do not, Mr Wheeler will be invited to seek an injunction to stop ratification going ahead.

The prime minister, who is at an EU summit in Brussels, was quick to respond to the letter saying the steps between Royal Assent and actual ratification could take weeks.

He added: "The judge has now replied that he expects to give his judgement next week and of course that fits in with our timetable.

"Having had Royal Assent we have got to go through all the different procedures before ratification - so ratification will not take place of course until we have the judgement."

But Mr Wheeler told the BBC that while Mr Brown said the timetable had not changed, that was "not consistent with what he was saying earlier".

Clearly the court ruling is an embarrassment for the prime minister and the government
Mark Francois
Conservatives

He said the government's solicitors had been "very relaxed in casually telling the court yesterday afternoon (Thursday) that they intended to ratify without bothering to wait for the court judgement".

He added: "The reaction from the court, not surprisingly, was very strong indeed."

If the High Court judgement goes against him next week, he said he would "very likely" appeal and hoped ratification would be delayed further.

Shadow Europe minister Mark Francois, for the Conservatives, told the BBC: "Clearly the court ruling is an embarrassment for the prime minister and the government."

Mr Brown has been discussing the future of the treaty - which was thrown into question after it was rejected in an Irish referendum last week - with other EU leaders.

Czech doubt

The treaty must be ratified by all 27 states to come into force - Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum.

EU leaders at the two-day summit in Brussels agreed to give Irish PM Brian Cowen until their next meeting in mid-October to consult at home and abroad on the possible next steps forward.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he is still confident it will be ratified.

But the Czech Republic may not be able to ratify the Treaty either, it has emerged.

The declaration from the Brussels summit notes that the Czech process is on hold due to legal difficulties.

Mr Wheeler had brought his own High Court case arguing that the British government had promised a referendum "and should keep its promise".

Labour promised a referendum on the EU Constitution - but that was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 and the EU Treaty was drawn up to replace it.

Ministers say it is substantially different to the EU Constitution so a referendum is not needed.

Conservative MP Bill Cash launched a separate bid for a judicial review of the ratification process - which was rejected by the High Court.




SEE ALSO
Judges reserve EU vote decision
11 Jun 08 |  UK Politics

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