The Prime Minister announced on Thursday 15th October that he was writing in November to Donald Tusk, the President of the European council who chairs EU summits, detailing the changes he hopes to obtain in the EU, before putting the outcome to a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether the UK should remain in the EU. This was viewed as the Prime Minister reacting to pressure from Jean-Claude Juncker and other European Union leaders.
The matter was raised at a press conference. At 8.59am, it was made very clear by No. 10 to journalists that it would be a confidential letter and that MPs and public would not be allowed to see or to have access to the letter.
A journalist telephoned Sir Bill Cash, Chairman of the House of Commons’ European Scrutiny Committee as the press conference progressed and asked for his response to the issue of confidentiality. Sir Bill told the journalist that this letter must be made available to the European Scrutiny Committee, Members of Parliament and therefore to members of the public as voters.
Then the journalist put this back to the Prime Minister’s spokesman. The No. 10’s official response through the spokesman was that it would not be made available to MPs or the public.
The journalist then requested a further response from Bill Cash on this matter. Bill Cash said it was Parliament that takes precedence over diplomacy and he would use the power of the European Scrutiny Committee to call for papers – and added that this letter must be placed in the House of Commons and made available to Parliament and the public. Bill Cash made clear his committee are already engaged in an inquiry on the terms of renegotiation and the sovereignty of Parliament – and therefore he would use the powers of the committee to call for papers and to have the letter made available to the committee.
Within half an hour, at 9.37am, having refused originally to make the letter available to MPs, the Government’s position changed.
It is now going to be made available to the European Scrutiny Committee, MPs and to members of the public. “The letter will be shared with MPs and made public,” said a No. 10 official. Bill Cash welcomed the decision to publish the letter clarifying Mr Cameron’s demands. He said: “I am extremely pleased. The whole nation will be grateful.”