Sunday, August 14, 2005

Booker

The column today picks up and runs with three stories that have appeared in this Blog.

Firstly, under the heading: "Revealed: how MPs allowed Euro defence treaty through Parliament without a vote", Booker covers the infamous "Framework Agreement" of July 2000.

In recent weeks, writes Booker, I have reported how the Ministry of Defence has been secretively committing billions of pounds to buying new equipment from European defence contractors, as it prepares to integrate Britain's Armed Forces with the EU's planned "Rapid Reaction Force". He continues:

One project after another has been brought to light by my colleague and fellow-researcher Dr Richard North, but the missing piece of this jigsaw was some central agreement that had set this unprecedented revolution in Britain's defence policy in train. This has now emerged, in a "secret treaty" between Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Sweden in 2000, which at last makes comprehensible the startlingly consistent pattern of Britain's recent defence purchases.

Although in effect this document was one of the most important treaties ever signed by a British government, every-thing about the way it was drawn up seemed calculated to hide its true significance. Signed by Geoff Hoon, as Defence Secretary, at the Farnborough Air Show on July 27, 2000, it was given the blandly misleading description of a "framework agreement" concerning "measures to facilitate the restructuring and operation of the European defence industry".

Buried away at the end of a lengthy document were the four articles that betrayed its real purpose. Article 45 committed the six signatories not just to a common policy for developing and purchasing defence equipment but to "a common concept for force employment". In Article 46 they recognised "the need to co-operate in establishing a long-term master plan that would present a common view of their future operational needs". Article 47 (as can be seen in the
earlier posting) pledged them to establishing "common staff requirements" and to full co-operation in such fields as "intelligence, strategic transport and command and control". Article 48 agreed to set up "an organisation with legal personality to proceed to common equipment acquisition" (this was eventually to become the European Defence Agency, established in Brussels in January).

In such dry bureaucrat-speak, it is hardly surprising that the implications of the agreement remained unnoticed. Although, as an international treaty, it needed ratification by Parliament, the MoD went out of its way not to alert MPs as to its contents. The document was lodged with "miscellaneous" technical papers - alongside a Home Office minute on the supply of information technology to the Electoral Commission - long enough for the treaty to be considered as having been approved under "negative procedure", because no MPs had objected.

Only now are we seeing the fruits of this agreement, as the MoD closes down one joint project with the US after another, and commits taxpayers to spending tens of billions of pounds on German, Italian, Swedish and French equipment ready for the Armed Forces to be fully integrated with their continental counterparts. And the MoD will have pulled this off without it ever having been discussed by or voted on by Parliament. What is unfolding amounts to the most astonishing coup d'etat in our history.
For his second story, Booker tells the story of the Scottish shipyard which lost the contract to build a fisheries protection vessel to a Polish yard.

Booker notes, as did we, that the Scottish National Party is outraged that at the contract which, under EU procurement rules, had to go to the lowest bidder.

What gives added edge to this national affront is that the SNP has traditionally been almost as keen on belonging to the EU as on winning independence from Westminster. Yet London is still permitted to buy vessels to patrol the seas round England from an English yard, Vosper Thorneycroft in Southampton, because these are operated by the Royal Navy, so far exempted from the EU's procurement rules. The Scots are thus paying for their determination to see fisheries protection devolved to Edinburgh, by having to send Scottish taxpayers' money to provide jobs for Polish shipbuilders.

Booker then takes the story further, noting how the Scots are also learning how heavily they have paid for handing over to Brussels the deep-water fisheries off their western coastline. In 2002 the Scottish fishermen were horrified when Brussels gave them only 2 per cent of the catching quota for these waters, most of the rest being awarded to France.

Since then, as Fishing News has reported, two thirds of the Scottish deep-water fleet has been driven out of business. Further savage cuts mean that the seven remaining purpose-built Scottish trawlers have already exhausted their measly quota for 2005, and are having to move over to the North Sea to compete for cod and haddock with the beleaguered Scottish whitefish fleet, itself reduced by two thirds since 2001.

The final blow came last year, after enlargement, when Brussels revised the quotas for Scotland's deep waters: Polish and other Baltic fleets were awarded quotas four times larger those given to the Scottish boats. So far as the SNP's erstwhile love-affair with "Europe" is concerned, the McChickens are rather coming home to roost.

For his third story, Booker deals with the "run around" that the Iranian government has been giving the EU, retailing the issues we broached earlier.

The failure of the EU's attempts to persuade Iran not to manufacture nuclear weapons has been even more humiliating than is generally realised, he writes. The purpose of the two-year joint mission by British, French and German diplomats was to talk the Iranians into not producing enriched uranium. According to a Reuters report in the US DefenseNews, however, based on a government document smuggled out of Iran by the National Council for the Resistance of Iran, the mullahs have used that time to assemble thousands of the necessary centrifuges, which can conveniently be hidden across the country.

Interestingly, the main newspaper also runs a similar story, from a different source, headed: "Iran 'kept EU talking' while it finished nuclear plant".

This is by Colin Freeman, who reports that an Iranian foreign policy official, Hosein Musavian said that Teheran took advantage of the nine months of the stalled negotiations with the EU to complete a uranium conversion plant. "Thanks to the negotiations with Europe we gained another year in which we completed the [project] in Isfahan," he told an Iranian television interviewer.

Like our source, Musavian also claimed that work on nuclear centrifuges at a plant at Natanz, which was kept secret until Iran's exiled opposition revealed its existence in 2002, progressed during the negotiations. "We needed six to 12 months to complete the work on the centrifuges," he said.

This should actually come as no surprise. As early as December last year, we reviewed a remarkable article from the Arab News which pointed out in no uncertain terms that Iran was taking the EU for a ride.

Booker, however, takes it further, pointing out that Britain's long-standing involvement in this latest bid to give the EU a "common foreign policy" has been one of the murkiest adventures our Foreign Office has ever put its hand to.

It is now seven years since he first reported on the bizarre saga of how the Foreign Office sought to appease Teheran by closing down Iran Aid, a charity set up, with support from several distinguished British lawyers and academics, to give practical help to the families and dependants of dissidents who had been murdered or imprisoned by the regime.

The strategy chosen to achieve this was to call in the Charity Commission, which sent in an administrator from PricewaterhouseCooper to take over Iran Aid's affairs. Despite spending two years combing through the charity's files (in consultation with a former minister of the Teheran regime), and retaining well over £100,000 of the charity's funds for his services, the administrator never found a scrap of that evidence to link Iran Aid with terrorist activities the Foreign Office was hoping for.

Naturally the FO publicly disclaimed any connection with this heavy-handed intervention by the Charity Commission. But as British ministers continued to visit Teheran, Iran's government radio boasted of how it had brought pressure on the British Government to close down the charity, which was eventually able to re-establish itself under another name. The lesson the FO has never learned, conlcudes Booker, is that appeasing dictatorships rarely yields any dividends. But its part in assisting Iran to become a nuclear power may prove to be one of the EU's greatest blunders to date.

For the final story, Booker calls in aid UKIP, reporting that while Tony Blair and most of his ministers are on holiday, our legislators are as tireless as ever.

A 47-page document from the European Parliament circulated by the UK Independence Party lists more than 460 directives, regulations and decisions issued by Brussels in the six weeks since Mr Blair took over the EU presidency on July 1.

The total of new laws and recommendations issued since that date, including those that did not come before the EU Parliament, amounts to more than 1,000. These range from regulations setting refunds due on the export of egg yolks and on "the issue of import licences for frozen thin skirt of bovine animals" to new guidelines on how EU member states must run their economies. Another sets up the European Security and Defence College, designed to train the officers of the EU's future armed forces.

As Euro-MP Roger Knapman, the leader of UKIP, reminds us, "Our Parliament in Westminster cannot amend these 1,000 new laws in any way". Our MPs and ministers may as well stay on holiday forever.

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