Saturday, January 29, 2005

No means no… maybe!

Under the header, "No! No! No!", redolent of Thatcher’s famous Commons speech when she denounced Delors’ megalomania, the Telegraph leader rejoices at the results of its YouGov poll showing that the voters would say no to EU constitution by two to one.

The poll details are worth reading, not least because the questioning is quite sophisticated, and shows that – on balance – the "no" vote is firmer than the "yes".

For the Telegraph, it sees good news in that "British voters have lost none of their common sense." With the poll replicating the question that will appear on the ballot paper, it confirms the trend of every recent survey.

The paper accepts that not everyone who expressed a view will be entirely au fait with the details of the constitution, but it argues – rightly in our view – that most people have a fair grasp of what the constitution is about.

They know, for instance, that it transfers more powers to Brussels. They understand that it entrenches many of the things that they already dislike about the EU. And they feel in their bones that they would rather be governed by their own elected representatives, whom they are periodically invited to turf out, than by an unaccountable apparat.

The Telegraph also counters the wishful thinking of the Europhiles – and the commission - who consistently argue that greater familiarity with the constitution will diminish the hostility towards it.

Says the Telegraph, to the extent that people read the document, their disquiet will be vindicated. It notes that, two pages in, they find that "this constitution shall have primacy over the laws of the member states" (Articles I-6). A few lines later, they learn that "member states shall exercise their competence to the extent that the Union ceases to exercise, or chooses no longer to exercise, its competence" (I-12).

Next comes an enormous list of areas where Brussels is to have jurisdiction: transport, energy, public health, employment, social policy, immigration, asylum, justice, home affairs, trade, competition, agriculture, fisheries, foreign affairs and defence (I-13 to I-16). Having read thus far - still no more than four pages into the text - people will doubtless be asking themselves what is left for the nations.
If people will have their fears allayed by reading the document, the Telegraph suggests that there is a simple way to settle the matter: distribute a copy to every household in the land. The Spanish government, to its credit, is sending out copies in advance of its referendum next month. If Tony Blair refuses to do the same, people will draw their own conclusions.

With that, the Telegraph now turns to the "bad news". A "no" vote, it says, will not kill the project. It notes – as we have been saying consistently on this Blog – that large parts of the constitution are already being implemented, before the first ballot has been cast.

The Telegraph identifies the fields of criminal justice and foreign policy, but we would also add defence – which is galloping ahead, and space policy, which has significant ramifications.

And, as we are all now noticing, there is no legal basis for these things, but that does not trouble our Euro-masters in the least. They have never let referendums stand in their way before, and they do not intend to start now.

Tony Blair, the Telegraph concludes, has described the vote as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to settle Britain's relationship with Europe. For once, that is no exaggeration. "If, as we hope," it says, "our poll is eventually borne out, it will not do to make a couple of cosmetic changes and then carry on as before. No means no."

With that, though, there is a growing problem for the "Yes-no" campaign – which is in favour of the European Union but against the constitution. As more and more people look at the constitution, they will see in it things they do not like, but will then be told or learn that they were in the existing treaties.

The problem for the "Yes-nos" is to distinguish between the new and the old, and then to explain why, if the new is so objectionable, why the existing is acceptable. Unless they can answer that, "no" will not mean "no" because, with or without the constitution, the political integration will continue apace, as indeed it is doing at the moment.

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