European Communities Act 1972 (UK)
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The European Communities Act 1972 (c. 68) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which legislated for the accession of the United Kingdom to the three European Communities, namely the EEC (or "Common Market"), Euratom, and the (now defunct) Coal & Steel Community.
The Treaty of Accession was signed by Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath and the President of the European Commission Franco Maria Malfatti on 22 January 1972 in Brussels; and the UK's accession into the Communities was subsequently ratified via the 1972 Act.
The Act provided for the incorporation into UK law of the whole of European Community law and its "acquis communautaire": its Treaties, Regulations and Directives, plus judgments of the European Court of Justice (such as Van Gend en Loos).
European Union Law (then Community Law) became binding on all legislation passed by the UK Parliament and the devolved administrations of Ulster, Scotland and Wales. Arguably the most significant statute to be passed by the Heath government of 1970-74, the Act is also one of the most significant constitutional statutes ever passed.
The act has been significantly amended from its original form, incorporating the changes wrought by the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty, the Amsterdam Treaty, the Nice Treaty, and the Treaty of Lisbon.
Origin and background
When the EEC came into being in 1958, the UK chose to remain aloof and instead join the alternative bloc, EFTA. Almost immediately the British government regretted its decision, and in 1961, along with Denmark, Ireland, Norway, the UK applied to join the three Communities. However, President Charles de Gaulle saw British membership as a Trojan horse for US influence and vetoed membership; and all four applications were suspended. The four countries resubmitted their applications in 1967, and the French veto was lifted upon Georges Pompidou succeeding Charles de Gaulle in 1969. In 1970 accession negotiations took place between the UK Government, led by Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath, the European Communities and various European leaders. Despite disagreements over the CAP and the UK's relationship with the Commonwealth, terms were agreed. In October 1971, after a lengthy Commons debate, MPs voted 356-244 in favour of joining the EEC.
For the Treaty to take effect upon entry into the Communities on 1 January 1973, and for the UK to embrace the EEC Institutions and Community law, an Act of Parliament was required. Only three days after the signing of the Treaty, a European Communities Bill of just 12 clauses was presented to the House of Commons by Geoffrey Rippon. The European Communities Act came into being, and Edward Heath signed the Treaty of Accession in Brussels on 22 January 1972. Denmark and Ireland also joined the Community on the same day, 1 January 1973, as the UK; but the Norwegian people had rejected membership in a referendum in 1972.
Second Reading (House of Commons)
On 17 February 1972, the House of Commons voted narrowly by 309-301 in favour of the Bill at its second reading after three days of intense debate. Just before the vote the Prime Minister Edward Heath argued his case in the debate with the following words.
|“||The right hon. Gentleman was allowed to deliver a long speech this afternoon as he wished, and I am not going to be interrupted by him now. I believe that our friends would find it incomprehensible if we were to tear up the agreement—the very agreement we have struggled for more than a decade to achieve. For years to come they would understandably ask whether any trust could be placed in Britain's rôle in any future international agreements. Our influence in world monetary and trade discussions would be destroyed. These questions would be settled by the United States, the European Community and Japan. The Community would not be broken up if we were to defect. It would suffer a bitter shock but it would survive and go on. But Britain would not benefit from the progress it was making.
I have dealt with many of the major issues raised in the debate. I will deal now in particular with one matter. As the House knows, I have always believed that our prosperity and our influence in the world would benefit from membership. I believed until recently that we could carry on fairly well outside, but I believe now that with developments in world affairs, and the speed at which they are moving, it will become more and more difficult for Britain alone. Faced with this prospect of change, I do not believe that any Prime Minister could come to this House and say, "We have secured the chance to join the European Community; we have signed the Treaty of Accession; we have the opportunity of full membership; but I now advise this House to throw them away." I do not believe that any Prime Minister could say that, and it follows from what I have said that this Bill is not a luxury which we can dispense with if need be.
It has been a central policy of three successive Governments, irrespective of party, and of all three main parties in this House that Britain should join the European Communities if suitable arrangements could be negotiated. By a large majority this House decided in principle last October that Britain should join the Community on the basis of the arrangements negotiated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy. Any Government which thereafter failed to give legislative effect to that clear decision of this House would be abdicating its responsibilities.
I must tell the House that my colleagues and I are of one mind that the Government cannot abdicate their responsibilities in this matter. Therefore, if this House will not agree to the Second Reading of the Bill tonight and so refuses to give legislative effect to its own decision of principle, taken by a vast majority less than four months ago, my colleagues and I are unanimous that in these circumstances this Parliament cannot sensibly continue. I urge hon. Members to implement the clear decision of principle taken on 28th October last and to cast their votes for the Second Reading of this Bill.
The Bill then passed on to Committee Stage before its third reading.
Third Reading (House of Commons)
On 13 July 1972 the House of Commons voted 301-284 in favour of the Bill in its third and final reading before passing on to the House of Lords. Before the vote took place, Geoffrey Rippon (who had drafted the Bill) argued in the House of Commons immediately before the vote:
|“||My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate dealt with that matter in Committee. It is a typical antediluvian intervention from an opponent of the Bill.
The building of a united Europe has been an objective of British foreign policy pursued by successive Governments for generations, and it stems, as the House should recognise, from a recognition that even at the height of our power and influence in the 19th century we could not afford to follow a self-isolating policy. It is usually Mr. Gladstone whom I wish to quote but on this occasion Lord Salisbury might be more appropriate. He said: We belong to a great community of nations and we have no right to shrink from the duties which the interests of the Community impose upon us…We are part of the community of Europe and we must do our duty as such. Lord Salisbury said that at Caernarvon on 11th April, 1888, and Mr. Gladstone said the same.
I believe that we shall walk tall into Europe on 1st January 1973. We shall take our rightful place in the counsels of Europe. We shall compete and we shall contribute.
The Bill then passed to the House of Lords before receiving Royal Assent.
The Act received Royal Assent on 17 October and UK's instrument of ratification of the Treaty of Accession was deposited the next day although the act and the treaty did not become law until 1 January 1973 when the United Kingdom officially became a member state of the European Communities (now the European Union) along with Denmark and the Republic of Ireland.
The European Communities Act was the instrument whereby the UK was able to join the European Union (then known as the European Communities). It enables, under section 2(2), UK government ministers to lay regulations before Parliament to transpose EU Directives (then Community law) and rulings of the European Court of Justice into UK law. It also provides, in section 2(4), that all UK legislation, including primary legislation (Acts of Parliament) have effect "subject to" directly applicable EU law. This has been interpreted by UK courts as granting EU law primacy over domestic UK legislation.
The Act incorporated the following treaties into the domestic law of the United Kingdom.
- Treaty of Paris (1951)
- Treaty of Rome
- Euratom Treaty
- Merger Treaty
- Budgetary Treaty of 1970
- Treaty of Accession 1972
The following treaties were added to the act though subsequent amendments.
- Single European Act (through the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986)
- EEA Agreement (through the European Economic Area Act 1993)
- Maastricht Treaty (through the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993)
- Amsterdam Treaty (through the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1998)
- Treaty of Nice (through the European Communities (Amendment) Act 2002)
- Treaty of Lisbon (through the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008)
Common Agricultural Policy
The Act legislated for the full participation of the United Kingdom in the Common Agricultural Policy and fully incorporates the policy into UK domestic law. It repealed previous pieces of UK domestic legislation to allow for this.
The Act legislated for the incorporation and full participation of the United Kingdom within the European Union Customs Union (then European Communities Customs Union) into domestic law, as well as the application of the European common external tariff to all goods which come into the UK from outside the European Communities. The Act repealed large sections of previous UK domestic legislation to allow for this.
The primacy and direct effect of EU law has no formal basis in the founding treaties of the union but was developed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), long before UK accession, on the grounds that the purpose of the treaties would be thwarted if EU law were subordinate to national law. The view of the ECJ is that any norm of EU law takes precedence over national law, including national constitutions. Most national courts, including the United Kingdom's, do not accept this monist perspective. The British constitution is based on Parliamentary sovereignty and has a dualist view of international law: international treaties do not become part of UK domestic law unless they are incorporated into UK law by an Act of Parliament. The primacy of EU law in the United Kingdom derives from the European Communities Act. This means that if the Act were repealed, any EU law (unless it has been transposed into British legislation) would, in practice, become unenforceable in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and the powers delegated by the Act to the EU institutions would return to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This was made clear to be the law in the United Kingdom by the inclusion of the "sovereignty clause" in the EU Act 2011 passed by the British Parliament.
The question of sovereignty had been discussed in an official document (FCO 30/1048) that became available to the public in January 2002 under the Thirty-year rule. It listed among "Areas of policy in which parliamentary freedom to legislate will be affected by entry into the European Communities": Customs duties, Agriculture, Free movement of labour, services and capital, Transport, and Social Security for migrant workers. The document concluded (paragraph 26) that it was advisable to put the considerations of influence and power before those of formal sovereignty.
In the House of Lords Factortame case, Lord Bridge has interpreted ECA section 2(4) as effectively inserting an implied clause into all UK statutes that they shall not apply where they conflict with European law. This is seen by some as a departure from the British constitutional doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, as traditionally understood.
The United Kingdom voted for withdrawal from the European Union in the 2016 EU referendum held on 23 June 2016, and afterwards there was speculation that the act would be either repealed or amended. In October 2016 the prime minister, Theresa May, promised a "Great Repeal Bill" which would repeal the 1972 act and import its regulations into UK law, with effect from the date of British withdrawal; the regulations could then be amended or repealed on a case-by-case basis. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in July 2017.
- Commonwealth of Nations
- Treaty of Accession 1972
- European Communities Act 1972 (Ireland)
- European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986
- European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993
- European Union (Amendment) Act 2008
- United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum, 1975
- European Union Referendum Act 2015
- United Kingdom renegotiation of European Union membership, 2015–16
- United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016
- R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
- European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017
- List of Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom relating to the European Communities (1957-1993) & European Union (1993- )
- Brexit, Article 50, and other articles – Wikipedia book
- All three of these institutions would later form part of what is now known as the European Union.
- '"acquis communautaire"(i.e. legal baggage)
- De Gaulle died in 1970.
- The 12-clause Bill was criticised by some in the opposition who had demanded a one thousand clause Bill that would be much harder to amend.
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