As expected, Jack Straw today delivered his speech on the EU constitution at the Centre of European Reform, London, hosted by Charles Grant, director of the Centre and one time biographer of Jacques Delors.
Surrounded by Europhiles and thus utterly at home with an uncritical audience, Straw was there "to set out today the case for the new EU Constitution". And his basic theme was:
If we approve this Constitution, we will be making it our kind of Europe, a Europe in which Britain is strong. If we reject it, we will end up with a weak and marginalised Britain in a worse kind of European Union.There is nothing new there, particularly – the usual dismal lack of confidence of the political élites, that would have Great Britain a snivelling, weak, isolated wretch if we dare so much as to think of not going all the way with whatever the "colleagues" throw our way.
There is a subtle variation here, through. Whereas we would usually be "weak and isolated" if we left the EU, we are now to become similarly "weak and isolated" if we don't ratify the constitution. Whatever the situations, therefore, in the Straw book, we are "weak and isolated".
Before getting to that point, however, Straw has plenty of time to throw around the usual quota of ad hominem epithets, no doubt to the delight of his Europhile friends. In fact, we had the full vocabulary. Dissenters were called "Europhobes", "sceptics", "anti-Europeans", as well as "queasy anti-Europeans" and "anti-European zealots".
One really does wonder if Straw understands that these are voters he is talking about, the people whom he wants to vote for the constitution. Is it arrogance, stupidity or simply recklessness, that he feels entitled so freely to insult what is in fact the majority of the nation?
Anyhow, he starts off with a "paradox" (which is not a medic with a red beret, just in case you were wondering), suggesting that it was the contention amongst the opponents of the constitution "that Europe has pulled the wool over British eyes".
"We thought we were joining a free trade area," the argument goes according to Straw, "but we were in fact joining a far more supra-national and integrated organisation than we wanted. The advocates of that view hanker after a return to the state of nature – to the European Community as we joined it in the early 1970s."
Jack Straw is so aptly named, for here we see his propensity to live up to his name, building up "straw dogs" so that he can knock them down. "Europe" as he puts it, was at the time of our joining the EEC, relatively open about its ambitions for political integration. It was not "Europe" who pulled the wool over British eyes, but British politicians, and Straw is continuing in that cynical tradition.
Asserts Straw, "even supposing it were possible to get our 24 partners to agree to that kind of Europe", it would not be better than today. It would still have most of the features to which the "anti-Europeans" most object: primacy of EU law, the ECJ, and so on.
And, in any case, "it is misleading to claim that the British people didn't know what we were going into, for those issues featured strongly in the debate on Europe at the time of our referendum in 1975." So there.
Straw obviously feels it is important to get that point in, but what is he trying to prove? In fact, who cares? History says otherwise and, if he disputes it, perhaps he should read the account of the 1975 Referendum by David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger – Europhiles both – who readily attest that ideas of political union were deliberately suppressed.
Passing that by, Straw tells us that the shape of the Europe of the 1970s would today suit us much less well than what we have now:
Europe circa 1973 means an EU without the Single Market; barriers everywhere to British businesses; energy, transport and telecoms run by isolated national monopolies; the Common Agricultural Policy entirely untouched by the reforms to it which we have since secured, and secured I might add through majority voting. There would be no mechanisms for working together against illegal immigration, drug trafficking and international organised crime; and only the most rudimentary ones for using our collective influence on the world stage.Notwithstanding that the electricity supply to No. 10 Downing Street is provided by a French firm, that the CAP is still a mess, despite numerous reforms, Straw wheels out the canard about the lack of mechanisms for working together on illegal immigration, etc.
Yet, on 29 September 2003, there came into force the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, which provides precisely the international framework that Straw claims would be absent without the EU. And he should know. The UK signed it on 14 December 2000.
It is not so much, therefore, that people like Straw tell lies – which they do – but what they leave out. Everything is "spun", distorted, not real, mendacious in spirit if not actually in fact.
For instance, he tells us that the Single Market "secured huge advantages for British firms" and "access to markets on equal terms across the whole of Europe". What he doesn’t say is that the Single Market brought with it an explosion of red-tape that drove thousands of firms to the wall, and the "access to markets" meant that EU member states also had access to ours, creating a massive accumulated trade deficit with the EU.
Now, the new Treaty will make the EU even more efficient and more effective. Furthermore, "It is clear from every word of the new Constitution that the EU is an organisation of sovereign nations, which can act only where its members have decided to do so in common. It has only those powers which the nations confer on it."
Oh, p-leese... I can't even be bothered to deconstruct that one. I will just make one comment. The "nations" in this context are not the people, you moron, they're bloody governments. They have conferred the powers on the EU, and without our consent: we the people – remember us? That is why we are having a referendum, and the answer is NO!
And on we drone. The Treaty limits the powers of the EU. Yea, yea. The Universe has limits, but it's still bloody big, Jack Straw. And the EU’s powers are too bloody big. One would be too much.
You can't actually engage with this sort of argument. You just get mad. You can't easily dissect it. The result is inevitably more boring that the original. In a less civilised world, you would just shoot people like Straw, but we can't – not yet. But he who would so freely insult us - we can give him a "kicking"... by voting No!