Get Britain Out is constantly flooded with members of the public asserting the EU will “prevent” the In/Out referendum or veto the result, because of changes to EU voting rules which came into force in November last year. This would be concerning — if it was true. Fortunately, it has no basis in fact.
This myth stems from an incorrect interpretation of the Treaty of Lisbon. In November 2014, the Treaty made numerous EU policy areas subject to specific voting rules known as QMV – qualified majority voting – weakening Britain’s autonomy in those areas.
QMV is rather complicated but, in short, passing a new law needs a majority of the 28 EU Member States (i.e. 14 plus one), as well 65 percent of the population of the EU as a whole. Britain used to exercise a veto because those laws would have to be passed by unanimity, but adopting QMV means the traditional restrictions are loosened.
Under these rules, Germany’s vote carries more weight than Ireland because Germany has a larger population. If 15 Member States with small populations agree to a law, but they collectively represent less than 65 percent of the population of the EU, the law won’t pass.
The key point to understand is new laws in certain policy areas will no longer require unanimity (as they used to under the old Treaty of Nice), so a single Member State cannot block legislation on its own.
It is true many policies were transferred to the new voting rules on 1 November 2014, and they include asylum, immigration, border checks, culture, tourism and sport.
Yet the Lisbon Treaty still contains Article 50, which enshrined the UK’s right to withdraw from the EU. This Article clearly states: “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
The second paragraph of Article 50 goes on to say: “The Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union… It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority…”
It is here the confusion lies. Article 50 does NOT state the other EU Member States will be able to veto Britain’s exit from the EU, only the outcome of our negotiations, ie the ‘exit agreement’ we make to secure trade with the Single Market etc.
If the agreement is not ratified by this qualified majority, Britain can still exit the EU, just without the exit agreement.
Britain is still fully entitled to hold a referendum on our membership of the EU, and Britain would also be allowed to withdraw from the EU, as are all 28 Member States. All that will be required is for a majority of MPs in Westminster to vote in favour of repealing the European Communities Act of 1972.
The will of our British Parliament is sovereign — at least for the time being — and the EU has no way to stop Britain either having a referendum or leaving the EU.
The quicker we Get Britain Out of the EU, the better for all of us. Rest assured, it can be done.
This article was crossposted in The Commentator.