The old jokes are always the best. This one is best framed in terms of the grizzled old sergeant addressing the raw recruit, informing him that, when he is told to jump, the only permitted response is: "how high?"
So it is now with the relationship between our government, the government of a formerly independent nation, and the EU commission.
Last Tuesday, we reported how the UK was running into trouble with the commission over the ongoing farce of the EU's emission trading scheme arising from a "row" between our government and the commission over the precise levels of carbon dioxide industry will be permitted to pump into the atmosphere before they attract massive fines or will have to buy "carbon credits".
The UK was looking to increase the permitted threshold levels, amounting to a three percent overall increase in CO2 emissions, and was arguing the toss with the commission. But the inverted commas around the "row" were quite deliberate. There was no row in the ordinary sense of the word, which might convey a dispute between equals.
This has been clearly illustrated by yesterday's developments when, in response to the UK government's pleadings, the real government – the EU commission – has simply written back to inform its subordinate that its plans are "unacceptable".
The UK's original plan had in fact been approved by the government – the EU commission, that is – but British companies had complained that it was too severe. Thus, in October, the UK changed the limits and then went cap-in-hand to Brussels to ask permission to do so – with the results we have recorded.
Now squeezed between the rock of its own industries' protests and the unyielding commission, the UK government is squawking about taking the commission to the ECJ.
Nevertheless, the new environmental commissioner, Stavros Dimas, has simply declared that: "Amendments such as an increase of the total allocation by 19.8 million tonnes… are not acceptable".
Clearly, the UK government hasn't fully grasped the nature of its relationship with its master. The correct response to Mr Stravros Dimas is: "how high?"