THE FUTURE of the Maastricht Treaty was plunged into new doubt yesterday after a senior European Community official backed legal advice given to British Euro-sceptics.
The opt-out clauses granted to Denmark, in the hope of winning a 'yes' in the referendum due on 18 May, are not enforceable in law, according to a letter from the EC Commission's principal legal adviser. The letter, obtained by the Independent on Sunday, threatens to derail the 'yes' campaign in Denmark.
It will also give new heart to British MPs who aim to prevent ratification of the Maastricht treaty in the House of Commons. The Government faces the prospect of a damaging defeat in the Commons this week if the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, allows a vote on an amendment covering the Social Chapter at report stage. Ms Boothroyd's decision remains difficult to predict although she has made clear to associates that she will not shirk her responsibilities. If the Government is defeated in the Commons this week, or accepts the Social Chapter amendment to avoid defeat, it faces a separate legal challenge in Britain from Euro-sceptics if it attempts to go ahead and ratify the treaty all the same.
A 'no' vote in the Danish referendum would vastly complicate the British government's problems. While Tory Euro-sceptics would see it as the end of the Maastricht project, other EC countries would press for a rapidly re-negotiated treaty.
Denmark won a package of concessions on the treaty at last December's Edinburgh summit. They covered monetary union, defence, citizenship, justice and home affairs, and Denmark's right to maintain high standards in social, consumer, environment and welfare policy.
But their legality was widely questioned by British Euro- sceptics. In a private letter, Donald Allen, the EC Commission's principal legal adviser, says that their misgivings 'are undoubtedly right'. He was referring to a paper written by Martin Howe, Leolin Price QC and Michael Shrimpton, three leading Euro- sceptic lawyers associated with anti-Maastricht Tory MPs
The news was welcomed by Jens Peter Bonde, head of the June Movement, which is working for a Danish 'no' vote. He said he hoped this would be a turning point in the campaign.
William Cash, MP for Stafford and a leading Tory Euro-sceptic, said the letter was very significant, adding: 'We have never been in any doubt that the Danish opt-out did not amount to a row of beans. I do not think that any reputable lawyer has any reason to believe that it is anything other than a con-trick.'
Mr Allen's comments are likely to impress the quarter of Danish voters who are still undecided. Current opinion polls show about half of voters will vote Yes.
Mr Allen's letter, written on 12 March on Commission notepaper, says the report is 'very clear and convincing, as one would expect from the authors, and indeed undoubtedly right'.
THE Independent on Sunday on 2 May suggested that Mr Michael Shrimpton, barrister, had been 'far from independent' in preparing a paper with two colleagues on the implications for Denmark of the 1992 Edinburgh European summit. We accept that in advising that Denmark had failed to obtain any opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty Mr Shrimpton acted in good faith and exercised an independent judgement. We apologise to Mr Shrimpton for any injury to his professional reputation.Reuse content