Sunday, June 05, 2005

Blair – the suicide bomber of Europe?

Don't get me wrong – I am not suggesting that the prime minister is going to turn up in Brussels with explosives strapped to his midrift. But the effect of today's pronouncement in The Sunday Telegraph – if true – will be roughly similar.

Blair, it says, "has given up on Europe as an issue worth fighting for", or so say "senior allies of the prime minister".

Therein lies the analogy. The nightmare of any security forces is the determined terrorist who does not care if he is killed in a bombing attempt. An intruder with a sense of self-preservation is more easily thwarted, as you tilt the survival equation to make it unacceptable, but if the potential bomber does not care, then the problems multiply.

Thus it is with Blair. If an assessment of his reaction to the Dutch and French rejections of the EU constitution is based on him caring deeply about the outcome of talks, and on his being personally concerned to find a successful resolution, then his options are fairly limited and his behaviour is fairly predictable.

But, if it turns out that he does not care – that he his quite happy to see “Europe” flushed down the pan – then all the calculations change. That which would be unthinkable in a "care-Blair" suddenly becomes not only possible but likely. He could just as easily tell Straw to trash the constitution tomorrow, putting it into eternal limbo, never to be recovered.

The implications are, of course, profound. The Chirac/Schroder duo – who we now know have reaffirmed their commitment to the ratification process – "red mist" could hardly even begin to describe Chirac's condition as he "greeted" Blair at the European Council, shaking him warmly by the throat.

But, if we now have a no-care-Blair, would it matter to him – apart from the bruises? If Blair, the suicide bomber of Europe, sees the G8, his "mission to Africa" and other affairs as more important, and is simply prepared to shrug his shoulders and walk away, what can the "dynamic duo" do about it?

There is the rub. We could find ourselves heading for that "Milan moment" where the European Council, by majority decision, instructs Blair to continue with his referendum. That would leave the prime minister to chose between a humiliating climb-down or outright defiance – either precipitating a domestic crisis as his showpiece policy of being at "the heart of Europe" crashes and burns.

The test will come tomorrow, when Straw rises in the House to make his statement. Isn't this fun?

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