The Government in Crisis: Danish issue could lead to changes in Maastricht Bill

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The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT amendment of its own legislation to ratify Maastricht cannot be ruled out as a consequence of solving Denmark's problems over the treaty, MPs were told yesterday.

And Michael Jay, the Under- Secretary who heads the Foreign Office's European Communities Department, said that while it was expected that the 'political framework' for resolving the Danish 'no' would be agreed at December's Edinburgh summit, it 'inevitable that there will be some work to be done after Edinburgh before final texts are agreed'.

Mr Jay made it plain to the MPs that as holder of the European Presidency, Britain is still unsure precisely how the Danish problem will be resolved. Mr Jay's warning, made in an internal Foreign Office memo and leaked to the Independent on Wednesday, that the Danish position was 'unlikely to be acceptable as it stands to member states', is already being used by Labour to justify its vote next week against the Maastricht Bill returning.

Mr Jay told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee 'a solution has to be found . . . which all member states can accept, but exactly how we get there has to be discussed in the weeks ahead'.

Repeatedly challenged by MPs on whether the Danish accommodation could mean substantive changes to, or even withdrawal of the Government's legislation, Mr Jay said: 'These are very difficult questions to answer. Until one is clear what the document that comes out at the end of it will be, it is very hard to know what the implications will be for other member states as far as ratification is concerned.'

Whether the Government's legislation would need amendment, he said, 'depends on what happens in the negotiations ahead, and what form of agreement with the Danes has been reached at Edinburgh or thereafter'.

George Robertson, Labour's European Affairs spokesman, said that only underlined Labour's case for the Bill not returning to the Commons now. 'There is no point in debating a Bill that the Government itself might need to amend. It is clear there is a massive job to be done to deal with the Danish package before Edinburgh,' he said.

Mr Jay stressed that the Danes had not asked for a renegotiation of the treaty, and the 12 had ruled that out. The Danish memorandum, however, states that their new agreement must be 'juridically binding' on all states.

Asked how that could be achieved without renegotiation, Mr Jay said: 'These are just the sort of negotiations that are going to have to be considered amongst all member states.'

MPs were told a protocol would be a legally binding part of the treaty; a declaration would have a lesser weight before the European Court. Another option would be a 'free standing agreement' which did not modify the treaty; while Mr Jay did not rule out a mini- Maastricht II. He said: 'There are a number of possibilities one can envisage,' but 'it is very hard to be precise. We haven't been in this territory before.'

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