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The second reading

Posted by Richard Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Updated

Listening to the debate in the Commons this afternoon, the most remarkable thing about it so far was the brevity of the Jack Straw’s contribution in opening the debate.

His crucial argument was that Britain is stronger in the world when we work with the other member states in Europe and, therefore, there is "a patriotic case to be made" for ratifying the constitution. The contrast he makes is between "working with Europe" and "narrow pessimistic isolation"..

Interestingly, as an example of the "successes" to be gained from "working with Europe" he cites Iran – without mentioning that the EU-inspired negotiations with the mad mullahs are going nowhere – yet he does not mention the singular success he has been part of in working with the US in bringing democratic elections to the peoples of Iraq – in the face of opposition from the EU.

Were we stronger in Iraq working with the EU, or were we stronger because we worked with the US, wholly outside the framework of the EU? Was indeed working with the US an example of "narrow pessimistic isolation"?

The omission of Iraq actually typifies the selectivity of the Straw approach so it was with some agreement that I heard Michael Ancram note that the strategy of the foreign secretary was to avoid informing the public debate, "to keep it as short as possible" and to use as much propaganda as possible.

I do not always agree with Ancram but in this, he certainly seems right. The whole tactic of the government seems to be to keep the issues tight, to repeat the same mantras time and time again, and hope that enough people will believe them to make the difference.

What we are going to have to tackle, therefore, is the mantra that not ratifying the constitution means we will be "isolated".

Apart from the obvious fact that we remain in the EU (unfortunately) if we do not ratify, we are still members of Nato, the UN, G8, the Commonwealth, and diverse other international organisations - to say nothing of having a "special relationship"with the United States. How in those circumstances does rejecting the constitution make us isolated?

*****

Kenneth Clarke also gave a speech and a very unhappy bunny he was. He spent most of his ten minutes railing against the decision to have a referendum, complaining that it weakened the hand of ministers in Europe. How could they make deals if they then had to go back and get their voters to agree them, he asked.

It is going to be fun dissecting his speech tomorrow, when we have the Hansard text.