Sunday, May 09, 2004

So where were they all?

It's the blog wot done it

One or two questions need to be asked in connection with the story on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph this morning about the enormous changes to the draft EU Constitution that have been proposed by the Irish Presidency (a story that was first published on this blog).

The document that seems to have been a mystery to all is an official one, published on April 29 and presented to the delegations of Focal Points on May 4. There is undue stress laid on the fact that this is “purely a working document” and is not is not “in any way a fresh overall Presidency proposal”. It may not be fresh or overall but it is a Presidency proposal and it makes a number of crucial changes to the previous draft, all of them in the direction of greater integration.

So, question one: did the British Government know about these proposals? They said nothing and continued to imply that the “red lines” were all in place to be defended to the last breath, even as these “red lines” were being eroded by the Irish Presidency. Even questioned point blank, a Downing Street spokesman bleated: “We want to take the negotiations forward to an agreement, provided all of our red lines are respected."

Does this mean the British Government does not think these proposals, sorry, working documents are of any significance? Maybe so, but should they not have made a tough statement about how absurd it all was and, of course, no way would it be accepted by the British Government, instead of pushing out soundbites to friendly journalists on how Tony Blair would bring back a much more voter-friendly document in June.

As a matter of fact they did know there was such a document and some of them or their advisers have, at least, glanced through the headings. How can we tell? In the already quoted short debate in the House of Lords Baroness Symons replied to that curiously phrased question of Lord Grenfell’s in the following words:

“My Lords, we are placing in the Library of the House copies of the presidency’s proposals that were issued last week”. I understand and hope that they are being copied and placed there this afternoon. They include provisions on the formation of the Council.” [our italics]

Clearly Baroness Symons had seen the documents in question and thought of them as the presidency’s proposals. Whether she had read them is unknown but she or her advisers had noted one of the headings: the formation of the Council. She was not very open about it, though.

If the documents were placed in the library of one House, they would have been placed in the library of the other. In other words, MPs had a chance to have a look at them, as well as peers. So, here is the second question: what was Her Majesty’s official opposition, the Conservative Party doing?

Lord Howell, speaking for the Conservatives in the short debate, did not refer to the documents as, presumably, he had not at that point seen them. What happened afterwards, though? Did his researchers bother to have a look? Did anyone realize what sort of firecracker they had in their hands? And what of Mr Ancram’s extensive staff? Mr Ancram is quoted in today’s Sunday Telegraph as saying: "This is another example of European integrationists using this draft constitution to speed up the process of creating a single European state . . . one more reason why we not only oppose the details of this draft constitution but the constitution itself."

Fair enough, but, perhaps it is worth looking at some of the details, just to find out what is actually being proposed and to conduct an intelligent debate. Did his advisers not alert him to the potential dangers? What, not one of them?

Well, where were they all? Not asleep, surely?

For full text of that contentious document click here and stay ahead of the politicians.

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