Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The penny is finally dropping?

So says Daniel Hannan in the op-ed in The Daily Telegraph today, referring to the commission’s statement that Michael Howard’s immigration policy would breach EU rules.

"Thirty-two years after we joined, we are at last waking up to the nature of our subjection before Brussels," he says. "It was always going to take a big issue to jolt us from our narcolepsy, and immigration is that issue."

I am not so sure. It is after all only the Telegraph and the Mail that is running with the issue. The BBC has dropped the subject as fast as it decently could and is now running wall-to-wall Guantanamo Bay. There was not one mention of immigration on the BBC's "agenda-setting" Today programme and none of the other broadsheets have covered it, or even The Times.

Even if he is preaching to the converted though, Hannan makes some good points. "It comes as a bit of a shock to find out that the common immigration policy already exists," he writes – even though it should not be a shock at all. He and his colleagues, after all, are paid to keep an eye on the legislation going through the EU system. That is what MEPs are supposed to do.

Never mind – he didn’t notice, and neither, it seems did anyone else in the Conservative Party hierarchy. After all, immigration was one of those "red lines" that Tony Blair kept swanking about. Hadn't the home affairs spokesmen of all parties - even the Lib Dems - made a big issue of keeping our border controls? Yet it now turns out that, although we may indeed keep our physical frontier checks, we have ceded the right to decide who is entitled to cross them.

Hannan nevertheless reminds us that "this is a pattern that one sees again and again in the EU." New initiatives go from being unthinkable to being inevitable without any intervening stage. It happened with the euro and the social chapter. It is happening again with the European army, he writes:

You hadn't heard about the European army? It is small, to be sure, but it certainly exists. Uniformed EU troops have been deployed in Macedonia, the Congo and, most recently, Bosnia. They are answerable, not to any national capital or combination of national capitals, but to the EU's own politico-military structures. Yet politicians continue to speak, rather touchingly, of "the need to oppose a common EU defence policy".
I am so glad he has mentioned the European army. Our regular reader will know that this Blog has been banging on about the subject of defence integration, virtually since we started up, most recently on Monday.

But when was the last opposition debate on the steady march of European defence integration? When, if ever? There has, in fact, been total silence on this issue from the Conservative ranks. Anyhow, so it goes on, says Hannan:

We are making a big fuss about the EU proposal to have its own diplomatic service, but it's already up and running. I recently visited the EU embassy in Lima (or the "European Delegation" as it is still coyly known). It employed many more staff than any of the member state embassies, and with good reason: it has assumed almost all their functions.

When I asked the Euro-diplomats what was left for the national missions to do, they grinned at each other and mumbled something about promoting tourism. Yet I'll bet that, when the EU formally calls its delegations embassies, there will be howls of outrage.

The same goes for the European police force ("Europol"), the EU prosecuting magistracy ("Eurojust"), tax harmonisation, human rights questions. In each case, Euro-integrationists pursue a well-tried four-stage strategy. Stage One is mock-incredulity: "No one is proposing any such thing. It just shows what loons these sceptics are that they could even imagine it." Stage two is bravado: "Well all right, it's being proposed, but don't worry: we have a veto and we'll use it." Stage Three is denial: "Look, we may have signed this, but it doesn't really mean what the critics are claiming." Stage Four is resignation: "No point complaining now, old man: it's all been agreed."
Part of the problem, says Hannan, is that, 32 years on, we still have not grasped the nature of EU power. Because the Treaty of Rome is called a treaty, we imagine that it simply binds its signatory states under international law. In reality, though – he tells us - the Treaty of Rome created a new legal order, directly applicable within the jurisdictions of the member nations.

Another part of the problem, I would venture, is the wilful refusal of the Conservatives to discuss the issue, the paranoid fear of even whispering the "E-word", the rigour with which EU issues are excised from policy documents by a hierarchy that is terrified about creating "another Euro-row".

Protest as you may about my being unkind to the Conservatives, but that is what happens, is happening. They are running scared, frightened of their own shadows. The "E-word" hangs over them like an albatross, and they shuffle about their tasks, casting fearful glances over their shoulders, lest the spectre might alight.

Anyhow, writes Hannan – on cue - to return to the case in point. "Let us ponder," he says, "what would happen if a future Tory government implemented the policy that Mr Howard adumbrated on Monday."

Let us imagine that someone entered the country illegally and that, several months later, he was discovered by the immigration service and ordered to leave. Let us further conjecture that he, like many sans papiers in this situation, suddenly claimed to be the victim of political persecution in his home country.

David Davis, as home secretary, would order his repatriation on the ground that we accepted as refugees only those who had been so identified by the UNHCR. The illicit entrant would at this stage take his case to judicial review and the judge, as things stand, would uphold EU law and order that he remain in Britain pending the assessment of his case.

The judge would act in this way, not simply because judges enjoy overturning deportation orders (although they do), but because he would be obliged, under Sections 2 and 3 of the 1972 European Communities Act, to give precedent to EU rules over our own parliamentary statutes. That is why, for example, the Metric Martyrs lost their case. Although a 1985 Act of Parliament explicitly allowed traders to use either metric or imperial units, an EU directive said otherwise, and our appeal court was obliged to give precedence to the latter.
"Mr Howard," says Hannan, "understands this very well. Not only is he a lawyer himself but, as home secretary, he clashed almost weekly with our judges - not least on immigration cases. He must have known that the EU would react as it did to his proposals: indeed, I suspect he was banking on it."

That is not what I heard – nor indeed was it the impression given in the Telegraph yesterday. By all accounts, Howard did not know – he genuinely did not realise quite how much had been ceded to Brussels. The commission’s statement came as a shock to him and his team. Had he known that his immigration policy was going to precipitate a "Euro-row" he would have run a mile.

Hannan, however, knows different – thinks he does, or perhaps is pretending he does. “He (Howard) has said before that he wants to take powers back from Brussels…”. Yes… reluctantly, grudging, dragged every inch of the way, and then only as long as the policy is kept in the cupboard and not talked about. Did you hear Howard talk about the new fishing policy?

Says Hannan, the issue on which he was planning to go into battle - the recovery of our fishing grounds - seemed rather marginal to most inland voters. Not exactly. Most people, inland or otherwise, care deeply about the fishing industry. It is, in a sense, a "litmus" issue. It is marginal in the Conservative Party only because it has been marginalised by the Conservative Party. But now, Hannan avers, Howard has found a casus belli where the country will be behind him.

Yea, right. For sure, that's what the words say on the front page of the Telegraph. Howard is quoted as saying:

A Conservative government will bring back control over asylum from Brussels to Britain, where it belongs. We will negotiate opt-outs from any directives which conflict with our asylum and immigration policy. The British government should control Britain's borders - and with the Conservatives it will. People will have a clear choice at the next election: unlimited immigration with Mr Blair or limited, controlled immigration with the Conservatives.
If that was true, it would indeed be a cause for rejoicing but, in the context, it is a back-foot response. What else could Howard have said, having been so comprehensively caught out?

Hannan is more optimistic - or mischevious? "It has been a besetting British vice that we ignore what is happening on the Continent until almost too late," he concludes. "But, when we finally rouse ourselves, our resolve can be an awesome thing. I sense that this may be such a moment," he says.

I wish he was right. I hope he is right. But I am not so sure...

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