Thursday, November 18, 2004

Trouble’t Mill

Actually, trouble at Britain in Europe, proving that it is not only the "no" campaign that is having its problems.

According to The Guardian, Gordon Brown has had an attack of the "formers", the former European commissioner Lord Brittan, and the former chancellor Lord "dead sheep" Howe, who have rounded on him during a private board meeting of BIE, accusing him of being nasty to the EU.

His sin, apparently, is talking up the British economy and contrasting it with the lack-lustre performance of the EU, behaviour the Brittan-Howe axis believe could cost the government victory in the referendum on the European constitution.

One board member said: "There was a fundamental tactical dispute between those who argue it is better to say a lot has been achieved and it is getting better in Europe, and those like Mr Brown who say Britain is superior and Europe has got to change a lot more."

The strongest and lengthiest attack apparently came from Lord Brittan. A Labour source claimed the leaking of the meeting was divisive, saying: "What actually happened is that Leon Brittan and Geoffrey Howe attacked the chancellor."

However, the criticism has not been accepted in the spirit of European solidarity, with Brown’s aides declaring, "The idea that Gordon Brown is going to be lectured by a group of former Tories about whether he should stand up for the British national interest shows how out of touch they are".

Malcolm Bruce, the Lib-Dim MP, who was also present at the meeting, gave the Guardian a slightly different account. He says the criticism was widespread."We told him [Brown] that by accentuating the difference and British superiority, the message he gives to the British people is that we are thoroughly engaged, and we are being stuffed, and we ought not to be there. By all means identify the areas where reform is needed, but also identify some allies and positives."

But the most interesting comment seems to have come from Sir Stephen Wall, the prime minister's former EU ambassador, who said the referendum on devolution in the north-east had been lost long ago, and the same could apply to the European constitution referendum, because the "no" campaign had the field to itself. He said the government was not countering their criticisms, but inadvertently giving them credibility.

Lord Haskins, the Labour peer, also warned all the political running was being made by the opponents of Europe. He said yesterday: "We all know Europe has got to change, but if we say we will only join in, so long as it is going to be better than it is at the present time, then that is not a tremendous message".

Nick Clegg, a Lib-Dim board member, said: "I don't think anyone on Britain in Europe thinks we should deny the faults of the EU - that would be daft - but we do think, either through accident or design, the Treasury does not appear to set out in a rounded way what is happening in the EU."

Not a happy bunch of bunnies it seems, but then, if you were having to argue the case of "Europe", would you be?

No comments:

Post a Comment