March 13, 2014 11:26 pm

Inconceivable that an EU deal can be reached by 2017

From Lord Taverne.

Sir, In Edward Miliband’s excellent article on a referendum (“Europe needs reform but Britain belongs at its heart”, March 12) he omits one argument that clinches the case against fixing 2017 as the date. David Cameron says he will negotiate a deal for a new relationship between Britain and the EU and give the people a choice in 2017, on the basis of that deal, whether to leave or stay in. But there is no conceivable chance that any deal can be concluded by then.

In a Lords debate on the private members’ bill on January 10, Lord Armstrong, former head of the Civil Service, pointed out that it took Margaret Thatcher five years’ hard work to secure the British budget rebate. Lord Kerr, former UK representative in Brussels, pointed out that a deal would have to go through four stages.

First it needs a simple majority of all EU members. Next, unanimity in a convention – the last one took a year and a half. Then it needs consensus at an inter-governmental conference – the one on Maastricht, when there was a general desire for an agreement, took a year. Finally, any deal would have to be ratified by all member states, which would require a referendum in several of them.

This process would have to be concluded in the year when there is a French presidential election and federal elections in Germany, hardly the best time to achieve a special deal for Britain.

Dick Taverne, House of Lords, UK

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