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Red lines! Red lines!

Posted by Richard Thursday, August 02, 2007 ,

Does anyone remember the first Gremlin film, and that wonderful catch-phrase: "Bright lights! Bright lights!"? Nothing brings that more to mind that shadow foreign secretary William Hague, who was on the Radio 4 Today programme, shrieking "Red lines! Red lines!".

Actually, he wasn't shrieking and he only used the words "red lines" once – but what is a blog for if you cannot indulge in poetic license now and again?

The interview was summarised on the BBC website and picked up by the Guardian under the heading, "Fresh demand for EU treaty referendum." The paper reported that Hague had "claimed" the reform treaty was "predominately and overwhelmingly the same as the constitution". He also referred to pledges by all three main political parties at the last election to hold a referendum before signing up to a new constitution.

"The government should honour that promise and they have no democratic mandate for this unless they do," he told the BBC.

According to the Guardian report, Hague then "claimed" the document conferred the ability to extend EU powers without the need to enter into additional treaties. He also dismissed the so-called "red lines", suggesting some of the opt-outs would not be legally binding. "The red lines are unravelling by the day, every time we get more detail about this," he said.

One should be grateful that Hague is actually batting for a referendum, but the interview was rather flat and the themes repetitive. The impression is that the shadow secretary has a standard, all-purpose script which he rolled out for the occasion, not really engaging with the subject.

He could, for instance, have pointed out that the "red lines" were in fact "red herrings" and broadened out the attack to pick up issues (such as the European Council) which are unarguable and demonstrably dangerous. Instead, he let himself be led by the nose through a lacklustre interview that failed to inspire.

One clarification, though, was welcome. If there is a referendum, Hague said the Conservatives would campaign for a "no" vote. That, I do not think we have heard before and it represents some sort of progress.

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