Saturday, October 20, 2007

Under the microscope

where is al Qaeda when you need it?
Brown, having returned from communing with his fellow members of our government (above), may be insulting our intelligence with his transparent pretence that the EU treaty is not the constitution in all but name, then with his "red lines" and with his insistence that "Britain's interests have been protected".

Furthermore, not only did his little flunky Jim Murphy tell us that the treaty was "good for Britain" but so did this lamentable excuse for a British prime minister, immediately after agreeing the treaty.

But, if that was not bad enough, so too are the Tories insulting our intelligence, giving distinctly mixed messages on their intentions regarding a referendum.

Less than three weeks ago, on the eve of his Party conference, it was no less than the Great Leader himself who told us via the Today programme that, "we promise a referendum … And that promise is good whenever Gordon Brown decides to hold this election."

Yesterday morning, however, we got his sidekick – part-time shadow foreign secretary William Hague - on the same programme, challenged directly on whether, in the next Tory manifesto, he will promise to repeal this treaty if it is ratified. In response, one might have expected him to echo his leader but, instead, we get this decidedly equivocal exchange:

WH: Well, that depe … Let's think first of all... There's several "ifs" there really. Is this going to go through Parliament in this form? Are we going to fail to get a referendum? And then is the general election going to be beyond the point - which is what I think what you are referring to – when the treaty has been ratified. Now that is something that we will have to decide over the coming months, what is the position after the treaty has been ratified, if it is ratified. We would like to focus people’s minds on the fact that it is still possible to force the government to give a referendum and that is what we will be campaigning for over the coming months.

INT: How is it though, because even when it goes though Parliament, you're unlikely to … unless the Liberal Democrats come in with you, you won't defeat the government.

WH: That is right ..

INT: …and the Liberal Democrats, given the likely leaders, Nick Clegg or Chris Hulme, they’re not going to vote with you.

WH: Well, of course, they ought to because they also have a commitment to a referendum. And I can tell you that those Lib-Dem MPs, and those …

INT: The reality is, Mr Hague that they won't, so the chances of you defeating this in Parliament are zero, aren’t they?

WH: Well, we are going to work with people across other parties, of course, to make the best possible case for this in Parliament. The case is very strong and we'll work to get the most votes on this in either House of Parliament. And you're quite right that if the treaty is ratified by this and all other countries, well then we'll all have to decide what we're going to do about this in the future. But we will decide about that in due course. That is one of the future arguments on this subject. It's not one of the arguments at issue at the moment.
So, now we know. Hague and the Tories will fight for a referendum, but Hague does not expect to win one. And afterwards, "we'll all have to decide what we're going to do about this in the future."

One could be forgiven, on this basis, for thinking that Cameron's initial promise was no more substantial than any other promise given by a politician – i.e., not at all – and that the Tories, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, will accept the treaty once it is ratified.

So transparent is the game being played by the Tories, in fact, that even a relatively neutral Reuters analysis of the post-agreement events, offers the throw-away line that, "The Conservatives are using the issue to portray Brown as a devious politician who is not to be trusted."

Without a clear, unequivocal commitment from the Tories that, come what may, they will give us a referendum if they are elected to power, will their posturing be worth anything? Otherwise, it is merely game-playing – a risk-free stratagem aimed solely at securing political advantage.

Meanwhile, in what is something of a post-treaty agreement ritual, Brown – according to The Telegraph - is telling us that he will give "no more power to Brussels", qualified by the time span of "the next decade".

That, says the paper, desperately trying to personalise the politics, places Brown "on a collision course with France" as it pushes for an expansion of EU defence powers next year. It also, we are told, "amounted to a tacit admission that he had just been forced to surrender large amounts of UK sovereignty to Brussels."

And indeed he has. Although he has "insisted" that he had "defended all the British national interests," in truth, Brown – no more than Major at Maastricht – has any real idea what he has given away. Who knew, for instance, that in a minor amendment to the transport policy, Major gave away all our powers on road safety, giving the EU the authority to make laws on speed limits, drink-driving limits and many other related issues?

An old hand at this game, Ambrose Evans Pritchard points out that, in this current treaty, Brown has given away power over our energy supplies. He writes:

Critics have warned that this risks repeating the error made by the Heath Government when it handed over control of British fishing reserves in the 1970s. UK oil reserves, although depleted, still make up the majority of the EU's untapped crude.

Article 176 gives Brussels powers to ensure "the security and energy supply", with decisions taken by majority vote. A separate article (100) says states must share their reserves in a crisis. It was removed after British protests, but has been slipped back into the text. As always with EU treaties, it is not until later that you find out which neglected sub-clauses prove to have the most far-reaching effects.
That last sentence has particularly sinister implications, for – as we illustrated recently – we are still learning things about the 1957 Treaty of Rome that we did not know. Even with later treaties – as with Maastricht, nearly 20 years ago – there are whole tranches, such as road safety, where the commission is only now beginning to flex its muscles.

Thus, Brown's ten-year "moratorium" holds no comfort. It will take the EU at least ten years to digest its new powers, before it is ready for another bite – even if, right now, the "colleagues" are already writing up the next treaty for when that event occurs.

This is why we need more than equivocation from the Tories. EU treaties are not single events, but steps in a continuous process. If this treaty is not stopped, there will be another one behind, and then another and another. The process will not be stopped until the treaty process itself is stopped.

Now that Brown has, according to The Times, set aside up to three months to ratify the new EU reform treaty, telling his "cabinet colleagues" that "months of detailed examination will dampen Eurosceptics' opposition while demonstrating that the document is too complex to be decided by referendum," we have an opportunity to explore these issues.

But it will not only be the treaty that is under scrutiny. We have no expectations of this loathsome government but the bona fides of the Tories will also be under the microscope. They are going to have to do better than they have done so far.

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