19, November, 2017
The final legal deadline for the European Commission to provide the Brexit Papers was Thursday 16 November 2017. That day passed without any sign of life from the Commission. Not one page arrived. Nor was any message received. No apology.
Nothing arrived on Friday 17 November. Before the end of work, I therefore wrote to the Commission Secretariat-General about this. The reason for the delay was made clear in the reply.
Politics. Apparently, for the Commission, politics overrules legal obligations. The letter says the Commission “hierarchy” is higher than the law!
The Secretary General’s office wrote that:
“The extended time limit expired on 16 November 2017.
We have finalised the assessment of your application. However, as our reply still requires the approval of our hierarchy, we will not be able to respond within the extended time limit.
I regret this additional delay and sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.”
The present “political Commission” gives itself political freedom to ignore legal deadlines. It is strict on the legal obligations when it comes to the general public. They must hold to these deadlines. Otherwise the tax-paying public gets its wrist slapped. No information for you, whatever the Commission’s legal obligation to publish public information. You want information? Then start the months-long request all over again! My request was first lodged in August.
One law for the fox, another for the hens in the hen house.
Robert Schuman, who launched the idea of the European Community on 9 May 1950, said the Commission should be impartial. It should not be political. It should not listen to lobbyists. And it should have an open information policy. The United Nations sought his advice about setting up an information network that was free of Fake News and Disinformation. Remember this was the time of the Cold War.
Early last year, well before the 23 June Referendum, in a freedom of information request a member of the public, Mr Chris Harris, requested the pre-Brexit background papers. These are documents of major public interest. The Commission should have been releasing them in a continual publishing cycle. It should be obliged to publish regardless of Freedom of Information requests.
- It is the public that is paying for the research.
- It is the public’s interest at stake in the decision.
- It is the duty of the Commission to have the public educated with fair, unbiased information before they make any decision regarding European Communities that need to be taken.
People should know the consequences of Brexit before the Referendum, Mr Chris Harris argued. He was fobbed off. The Commission brandished its two powerful weapons, legal complication and time-wasting. The latter is facilitated by the strict 15-day deadlines imposed in the EC Regulation 1049/2001.
Mr Harris made clear the importance of this request and the damage of the Commission’s negative and tardy attitude to releasing information:
“There is/was (as the referendum has now taken place) an over-riding public interest in releasing the documents. It had been 40+ years since the British public were given the opportunity to say whether they wanted to be involved in the EU project, a whole generation never voted for it in the first place. They also have the right to know, if they vote yes, on what terms they will stay in the union.”
The Commission had set up a UK Referendum Task Force (UKTF) under one of its most eminent lawyers and former Commission chief Spokesman, Jonathan Faull. The Commission refused to provide any information, even though the writer, Mr Harris, had replied inside the given time. His error? He did not add the magic words ‘I am requesting a review‘ after the first refusal of the Commission! (A refusal is normal Commission practice.)
However, Mr Harris had pointed out that the Commission had not replied to all his questions in their first reply. How then was he to ask for a review when the Commission had not given the answers he could appeal against!?
The Commission dismissed his information request. It replied:
“The Commission regrets not being able to derogate from the compulsory deadlines laid down in Article 7(2) of Regulation 1049/2001, as it is bound to treat all applications for access to documents according to the same rules so as to ensure equal treatment of those applications.”
We can all envisage the tears of of the Commission shed, not being able to supply the necessary information before the 23 June 2016 referendum !! Tears of joy. Phew! we got out of a political row with the UK government and some nasty headlines in the British press! They may have accused the Commission of explaining the difficulties that Brexit would cause, the cost of the Brexit bill, the assault on Citizens’ rights and the impossibility of having a customs border in Northern Ireland which was not a border.
Now the Commission is faced with years of extra bureaucracy in the so-called Brexit negotiations. It has already cost untold sums to industries, anxieties to millions of EU and UK citizens and raucous laughter among EU’s competitors at what they say is the stupidest decision any country has made.
And Horror of Horrors! it may have raised the deadly question about NOT having a referendum to legally validate the Lisbon Treaty. In their manifestos political parties promised referendums. Thus they accepted a YES vote from the public was necessary to activate the Lisbon Treaty. In office each UK Government successively refused referendums on the democracy-changing treaties from Maastricht to Lisbon.
As for Article 50, it is triply dead. What use are “negotiations” on an Article in a treaty whose validity is highly dubious? This is a time bomb for the future, well beyond the present negotiation farce. The Irish national referendums rejected it. British polls rejected it.
The UK governments had refused to have a referendum to validate the treaty. The same article, then called Article 59, had been roundly rejected by the French and Dutch referendums when it first saw life in the Constitutional Treaty. So how on earth could a rejected article be legally the basis for a non-binding Brexit referendum??
More than the stupidest decision, the Referendum question itself was one of the most illegal and ill-thought of operations in modern history. Surely a democracy should have as its first priority to make sure that any Community of Democracies is really democratic? The closed-door Councils of Foxes have stolen the democracy of 500 million people. Whoever heard of a closed door democracy? Ask the North Koreans!
David Heilbron Price