Saturday, May 08, 2004

A parallel universe?

Reviewing Toby Helm’s story in the Daily Telegraph this morning, one must be forgiven for wondering whether we are inhabiting a parallel universe.

Headed “Blair ready for another row with EU over new constitution demands”, we are led to believe that Blair is “to risk a new row with European leaders over the EU constitution by tabling a list of extra demands” that he hopes will help persuade Britain to vote "yes" in a referendum.

Mr Blair, we are told, “will signal the new, tougher approach" during a meeting with Chirac in Paris tomorrow. It supposedly involves securing firmer guarantees to limit the role of the European Court of Justice and prevent widening the remit of EU social policy.

But hang on a minute. Did not the Irish presidency just issue 130 pages of amendments to the constitution, which drive a coach and horse though Blair’s fabled “red lines" on foreign policy? Do not the amendments give so much power to the Union Foreign Affairs Minister that the veto exists in name only? Does this document exist only on a parallel universe? Or is it that Blair, and the rest of the political establishment have been caught out, and have not read the document?

Certainly, it is impossible to reconcile the black and white of the text of the Irish presidency’s amendments with the soothing statements from "senior Whitehall officials", as retailed by Helm. These "Rolls Royce minds" have told him that Blair's U-turn over a referendum had given him more negotiating muscle. "The more you can get out of this the easier it will be to sell," one said. "The determination has hardened up."

Has it? Can this man have read the Irish presidency document, been briefed about it, or even be aware of it? It hardly seems credible.

And the full extent of the damage has not yet been fully revealed. On taxation, the new draft is so woolly that Blair’s “lines” look more like a serpentine, perforated pink than deep red. A new blog on the taxation issue will be posted shortly.

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