Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Saturday "toy"

This half of EU Referendum went AWOL today, exhibiting the fine judgement for which this blog is famous by going to an air show at RAF Waddington - in the pouring rain.

Nevertheless, we managed to get a good shot of an RAF Chinook HC2 doing a wheely down the main runway. Made a change from blogging.

Enjoy (click the pic to enlarge - copyright waived, if anyone wants to nick it).


Glasgow airport

I thought I'd put this link up on the main page rather than in the news section as it is quite important. Sky News and Reuters have the story of what has been happening in Glasgow, with Charles Johnson on Little Green Footballs following developments and providing extra pictures.

With the greatest respect in the world

In one episode of the superlative series "Yes, Prime Minister", Sir Humphrey explains to Jim Hacker the niceties of courteous insult and disagreement. Thus "with respect" is weaker than "with respect Prime Minister" or "with great respect Prime Minister". Later on in the story, Sir Humphrey takes a deep breath and starts saying, "with the greatest respect in the world, Prime Minister". Hacker interrupts him: "Don't Humphrey. You'll regret it."

Though not in Sir Humphrey’s position I, nevertheless, feel inclined to use that phrase with gritted teeth as I read about the new Prime Minister's daily antics, so reminiscent of Blair's in 1997.

Blair, let us recall, was also hyperactive in those weeks immediately after the election and also spent some time "wrapping himself in the flag" just as Brown keeps talking about Britishness and British values. None of this means anything.

So, let us begin.

With the greatest respect, Prime Minister, it is a little pointless to keep talking about all the changes that are about to start and new beginnings when all you are doing is taking over half-way through the third term of an existing ministry.

While it made sense for your predecessor, Tony Blair, in 1997 and for Margaret Thatcher in 1979 to speak of great changes, it makes no sense for somebody who was effectively appointed by his party to be the Prime Minister, regardless of how many new appointments he might make in his Cabinet or how many new highly paid new ministerial jobs he might create. It is still the same government with the same mandate.

Nor does it matter how many times the Cabinet has been summoned in the first two days for no very good reason or the fact that meetings will now be moved from Thursday to Tuesday. Very few people know or care when the Cabinet meets.

Nor will anyone, apart from a few journalists in the MSM be terribly impressed by the "new" Cabinet. The Cabinet of All the Talents has boiled down to several ministers who have already displayed their incompetence, such as Jack Straw, Yvette Cooper (who will only attend some Cabinet meetings), Ruth Kelly and others and a large number of inexperienced politicians who are unlikely to stand up to the Prime Minister.

With the greatest respect in the world, Prime Minister, your Cabinet is going to be even more of a one man show than your predecessor's was. There will be nobody like you to stand up to you. Of course, Prime Minister, one cannot altogether rely on friends, such as Alistair Darling, to remain quiescent as Chancellor of the Exchequer but that, presumably, is precisely what you are relying on.

The ministers from outside will not amount to much, even if Shirley Williams (now Baroness Williams) does come into the big tent. To say that she is past her sell-by date as a politician is to make a statement that is about thirty years out of date.

Then there are Lord Malloch Brown, the man who ran interference for SecGen Kofi Annan in the oil-for-food scandal and is now the Vice-President of the Soros Fund, Sir Digby Jones, soon to be Lord Jones one assumes and, possibly the only imaginative appointment, Sir Alan West, former First Sea Lord who becomes junior minister in charge of security matters and Sir Ara Darzi, a surgeon who will take on the rather nebulous task of "improving patient care and building partnerships with staff".

All very jolly, of course, though hardly revolutionary, Prime Minister or even a series of particularly bold decisions. Outside "experts" are always being brought into governments by politicians with variable success. Frankly, Prime Minister, with respect, you would have been better off to use these people as advisers if you wanted them to help you, that is, rather than to silence them.

As it is, they will be in the invidious position of being inside that big tent but at your mercy as none of them will have any standing or support in Parliament, let alone the party.

What of the supposed constitutional revolution that so excited journalists yesterday?
After carrying out the most sweeping Cabinet reshuffle of modern times, the Prime Minister will promise that in future ministers will have to seek parliamentary approval before a major commitment of troops overseas, subject to operational needs and secrecy.

There will be "confirmation hearings" for major public appointments, curbs on political advisers and an independent figure to investigate breaches of the code of conduct for ministers. Mr Brown demonstrated that he wants to set a cracking pace - after months of limbo during Tony Blair's farewell - by summoning the new Cabinet for its second meeting within 24 hours.
With the greatest respect in the world, Prime Minister (and ladies and gentlemen of the media) these are merely administrative adjustments. As it happens your predecessor (remember his name?) did seek and get parliamentary approval before he sent the troops to Iraq. That approval weakened because things did not go quite as smoothly as expected after the first burst of enthusiasm and because some of the arguments he had used to persuade you and your colleagues turned out to be spurious.

That, Prime Minister, is because he did not dare to talk of British interests. Will you when the time comes?

A real constitutional revolution that will revive faith in politicians (well, actually, Prime Minister there never was all that much faith in them and why should there be?) would be the return of legislative powers to Parliament. Now that would be a bold decision. Will you do it, Prime Minister?

Will you, at the very least, not show yourself to be your predecessor’s poodle (though, with respect, real poodles have far more personality than the average politician) by agreeing to turn the mandate he signed in Brussels into a new constitutional treaty without as much as a squeak in protest?

A bold decision to fight for Britain's interests and for a complete change in the European structure, threatening withdrawal from the outdated, undemocratic, authoritarian even by its own standards and economically backward European Union would be a real constitutional change. Of course, you would need the people's approval and that, really, would be a very bold decision. With the greatest respect in the world.


Says it all

The first car is spotted by a paramedic, who calls the police and they defuse the bomb. The second car is spotted by a traffic warden. He slaps a parking ticket on it and arranges for it to be towed to the pound.

There is no truth in the rumour, incidentally, that the police are abandoning the terrorist charges and going after the more serious offences of illegal parking.


Lèse majesté

A spread of the media is telling the story of how Poland, to the fury of the "colleagues", is demanding to re-open the debate on the "mandate" agreed at the European Council meeting last week. The issue, rather predictably, is voting rights.

First out of the traps is Deutsche Welle which, like so many of its contemporaries, conditions its report by referring to "treaty negotiations".

The interesting thing about its report, though, is that – undoubtedly unwittingly - the paper awards a quite undeserved authority to two institutions, the EU parliament and the commission.

First, it cites the German president of the parliament, Hans Gert Pottering, who calls the new Polish demand "totally unacceptable," while it has commission president Barroso urging all governments "to respect the deal".

This, in a very real sense, is lèse majesté. These institutions, as part of a treaty organisation are, in theory – and international law, if you care to rely on it – subordinate to the nation states.

What they are doing is denying the right of an independent sovereign state to negotiate its own terms at an intergovernmental conference, which will define the powers of these (theoretically) subordinate institutions. This is borne out by the context, where Jaroslaw Kaczynski is saying, of his country's voting rights, "We have to finally resolve this issue at the Inter-Governmental Conference."

Whatever one's view might be of the Polish case, the one certain thing is that Kaczynski has the perfect right to insist on negotiating it at an IGC.

Despite this, the fiction of the primacy of the "mandate" is reinforced by Portuguese prime minister José Socrates, who in the insolent way of the "colleagues", called Kaczynski's comments "a misunderstanding." He declares, with a complete disregard for international law, "The mandate is very clear and precise on what has to be done."

For the best example of lèse majesté, however, one has to go back to the EU parliament where Martin Schulz, head of the Social Democrat group, splutters, "I just can't believe it … You can't question what was agreed upon after such a dramatic summit." Ah, but you can, Mr Schultz, you can.

Nevertheless, we get the same sort of confusion from the IHT. It has Jaroslaw Kaczysnki making "a display of defiance". Why a nation state exerting its rights under international law should be considered "defiance" is not explained.

In this report, the IHT gives more space to Barroso, citing him saying that some adjustments to the treaty could be discussed but, "nothing that would contradict the agreement that was unanimously obtained." There we have it again, lèse majesté writ large. What a nation does at an IGC is none of your business, Mr Barroso.

But the commission has never been bothered by such niceties. It also fields its spokesman, Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, to pronounce that the voting issue was closed, adding, with the arrogance of office to which one has become accustomed: "This was clearly settled last week. A mandate is a mandate and a deal is a deal. Now is the time for the intergovernmental conference to finish its job."

Hans-Gert Pöttering also gets another bite of the cherry and, in this report, he opines that the Polish proposals contradicted the agreement reached in Brussels. "If so, it would be totally contradictory to what has been agreed in the summit in Brussels and it is totally unacceptable," he adds.

Reuters via The Washington Post contributes its own brand of confusion, offering an opinion from Pawel Swieboda, an analyst at Warsaw-based thinktank DemosEuropa who tells us that, "This is an invitation to another disaster. Poland will lose its credibility because it is one thing to fight for your interests and another not to keep your word."

Helpfully, the online journal gives us its "take", recording that a commission spokesman was asked whether "the binding force of EU summit decisions could be questioned". As happened when Blair was asked a similar question, the reply was fudged. "The normal effect of summit decisions and a mandate is clear," was the answer. They really do not want to deal with this one.

That leaves AFP which follows the party line, then defining the IGC for the unknowing. It "is likely to meet regularly over coming months to try to iron out the 'reform treaty's' remaining details," says the agency, thus casting it in the preferred role as a drafting committee.

Thus are relegated the leaders of the once mighty nations of Europe – to the status of clerks serving the mighty machine of the European Union. And no one even seems to have noticed.


Friday, June 29, 2007

It must be true - the Iranian government says so

The news from Iran is becoming ever more disquieting – for the Iranian authorities, that is. The riots caused by petrol rationing have obviously shaken the regime because they have gone the way regimes always go when confronted with a problem: they have banned all local reporting of it and, to make sure, that nothing leaked out, switched off the text messaging system.

As the BBC reports it, the ban was circumvented by some newspapers, described as reformist. One way or another we know that there have been demonstrations in various parts of Iran and several police campaigns against people who show themselves to be disobedient to the rule of the Mullahs. (We have written about those campaigns here, here and here.)

It is, therefore, particularly odd for the European Council to persist in keeping the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) on the list of terrorist organizations, without providing any evidence for this.

As my colleague and Christopher Booker have pointed out, this organization was first put on that list by the then British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, at the request of the Iranian government. It was British perseverance that put the organization on the EU black list. (Who says we have no influence in Brussels?)
Last December the lower court of the ECJ ruled that this was unlawful, not least because the PMOI had never been given sight of any evidence to show that it supported terrorism. But in January, in an unprecedented breach of European law, the European Council agreed with Britain that the ECJ's ruling should be ignored (a decision personally defended by Tony Blair in a letter I have seen, dated March 19).

In a cynical nod to the ECJ, the Council did, in March, send the PMOI 16 documents supposedly justifying its actions. This turned out to be a self-parodying "dodgy dossier", including a 10-year old article from Time magazine and items trawled from unidentified websites, which contained not a shred of evidence that the PMOI was engaged in terrorism. Indeed the dossier broke another EU law, in that it was legally obliged to contain current evidence, whereas none of its contents referred to events later than 2001.
There is a reason why none of the evidence stopped in 2001 – that was the year in which the PMOI foreswore violence. According to an article on EUObserver, the Iranian government has cast severe doubts on that. Well, not so much cast doubts as stated that it did not matter: once a terrorist always a terrorist. The British government and the European Council apparently agree with this, disregarding the fact that they have accepted similar assurances from Sin Fein/IRA.

As the same article reports the latest list of terrorist organizations still includes the “Mujahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MEK)...a.k.a...the People's Mujahidin of Iran (PMOI)”. And still no evidence has been produced. What about the ECJ decision, which ought to count for more than statements by Iranian officials?
The PMOI decision has seen a howl of protest from Paris-based sister group the NRCI, with NRCI spokesman Shahin Gobadi telling AP that "tens of thousands" of Iranian exiles will stage a march in Paris on Saturday.

The NRCI says that an EU court ruling last December, which annulled a 2002 decision to put PMOI on the register and freeze its funds, has not been honoured. But EU lawyers say the verdict does not cover subsequent decisions.
Right. Let me get this straight. There is a legal decision by a court that is authorized to decide in the matter. The politicians then go against that decision and announce that the legal judgement does not apply to what happened after it. Interesting.

Incidentally, in case you are wondering, Hezbollah is not on the proscribed list. In fact, it is a little surprising that Hamas is. Perhaps Iran is not as closely involved in what has been going on in Gaza as we think.


Blair's poodle?

For all its many faults, the Daily Telegraph must be applauded for giving Bruno Waterfield space to run his story on the developing treaty saga.

Under the headline, "You're stuck with Blair's EU deal, says Portugal", he develops the theme we raised yesterday, that the stitch-up was continuing.

Thus does Waterfield write, "Gordon Brown will find his hands tied as it becomes clearer and clearer that Tony Blair's European Union treaty deal resurrects the constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters two years ago."

He then goes on to tell us that the incoming Portuguese EU presidency has made it clear that the new British prime minister is bound by the mandate agreed by Mr Blair last week, clothing this with direct quotes.

Europe minister, Manuel Lobo Antunes is cited, declaring that: "We do have a clear, precise and detailed mandate handed down to us. We believe that the conditions and guidelines are set out to us in that mandate … We will be sticking strictly to the terms we have been given."

Chillingly, Waterfield adds, "Portugal wants a quick treaty finish and will hold Mr Brown to the 15-page text (16 pages, actually), backed up by as yet unpublished legal documents signed by Mr Blair and regarded as binding for his successor."

Er…? What "unpublished legal documents signed by Mr Blair"? Are we back in the days of secret treaties being signed, or what? I think we should be told.

Anyhow, that Gordon Brown is bound by the "mandate" is simply not true. In the final analysis, he has a veto at the IGC summit scheduled for 18-19 October in Lisbon. But you can see the line developing, as the "colleagues" continue to insist that the treaty is a done deal.

We also get the intelligence that Labour MEPs have pleaded, on behalf of Downing Street, with EU institutions to downplay elements of the constitution to help the Government domestically "undersell" the deal to avoid a referendum. The stitch-up is indeed continuing, although the "colleagues" do not do discretion that well.

The pleas have fallen on deaf ears, writes Waterfield, and the drip, drip of opinions, especially those rubbishing the legal force of Britain's opt-outs, will continue throughout the summer.

We also get more detail on the timetable: formal treaty negotiations begin on 23 July and will mainly be conducted in secret, an arrangement primarily put in place to help Mr Brown. Foreign ministers will discuss a 150-page "draft treaty text" in the Viana do Castelo, Portugal, on 7 September.

Thus do 16 pages turn into 150, signifying the true extent of what Blair agreed in Brussels. It reminds me of those novelty pellets you can buy which, when you immerse them in water, expand to fill the container, taking on the shape of a multi-coloured flower. No wonder we are having difficulty tabulating all the changes in our analysis.

The first key date in this timetable will be the foreign ministers' meeting on 7 September, when all but the final details of the proposed treaty will be agreed. And here the full horror of Brown's choice of foreign minister will become clear. We will be represented by arch-Europhile David Miliband, who will be keen to agree everything he thinks he can get away with.

With most of the media and the public thinking that the treaty was "signed" by Blair on 23 June, Miliband has a head start, and you can bet that the likes of the BBC – if they report it at all – will present the meeting as simply "tidying up the details". Nevertheless, this will be a crucial moment for the "colleagues".

Then, shortly afterwards, at the October summit, we will learn whether Brown is his own man, or simply Blair's poodle, tightly leashed, following in his wake.


What I should like to know is ...

.... whether Lord Malloch Brown, as we must learn to call him, will go on being Vice President of George Soros's Quantum Fund now that he is a member of the Cabinet of No Talents and Too Many Browns? And if he does would that not entail a certain clash of interests at certain times? Just asking.

While we are on the subject of George Soros, what happened to his idea of a European Council on Foreign Relations? Will the Noble Lord be involved with that?

Happy days are here again

A car driven erratically in the middle of the night in the West End; driver runs away; police alerted; gas canisters and possibly nails (unconfirmed) removed from the car at about 4 am; one source saying that the implements would have made a large and serious explosive device, another that it was really very small, whatever it was. And, above all, hours later a still chaotic situation around Piccadilly with Piccadilly Circus closed during the rush hour. Here we go again.

Not enough rain

Within minutes of being appointed secretary of state for the environment in Gordon Brown's cabinet reshuffle, Hilary Benn's first task should be to take his begging bowl over to Brussels and ask for "emergency aid" to help UK regions hit by flooding.

That, at least, is what he is being urged to do by Europhile MEP Timothy Kirkhope, applying for relief from the £700m-a-year European Union Solidarity Fund. But, according to The Independent, he has 10 weeks in which to apply and then the UK only qualifies for aid if the damage exceeds £2 billion.

However, according to that fount of all wisdom and knowledge, the BBC, the Association of British Insurers is saying that the overall cost of the floods will run into hundreds of millions.

That, it seems is not anything like enough to enable us to trigger an application, even if local and national government costs are taken into account. And, in any case, the fund is intended only to provide immediate emergency aid "permitting the resumption of everyday life", such as temporary accommodation or provisional repairs to power lines and other vital services - but not for private losses.

At the moment, therefore, it looks like the UK hasn't had enough rain to benefit from an EU handout, which means the Europhiles are deprived of an opportunity of boring everyone with another example of how lucky we are to be members of the European Union.

If they want to benefit from this propaganda line, they'd better get praying for some more.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

This is not a civil war

The last time we didn't have a civil war in the Middle East was just a few weeks ago in Gaza. Now we don't have a civil war in Lebanon.

Al-Jazeera reports that fighting between the Lebanese army and the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam has spread to the northern town of Qalamoun where six "armed fighters" (is this translated from Russian, I ask myself) have been killed.

So far they have identified two of the men as Lebanese and three as Saudi with nationality of the sixth one remaining unknown.

Others, like the Middle East Times, give a different line-up:
A military source, on condition of anonymity, said that three Saudis, two Syrians, and an Iraqi were killed, while the Riyadh daily Okaz reported that four Saudi suspects had been arrested and another four killed before the latest clash.
Since May 20 when the fighting started, first in Tripoli, then in the refugee camp, 194 people have been killed, not counting the latest casualties. Well, that is the official figure but it is hard to work out how many civilians and terrorists are killed in the sort of fighting that has been going on.

Officially the figures are: 84 soldiers, 70 "fighters" i.e. terrorists and 40 civilians. The truth might be very different. One thing is certain: this is NOT a civil war. Got that?


Another recruit for the "colleagues"

Inevitably, the media and the political circuses are focused today on the Brown reshuffles. It took little skill, therefore, to predict that this would drown out any other political news.

It is slightly comforting, therefore, to find the Daily Mail's coverage of the reshuffle including this item:

Mr Brown wants to ratify the new constitution - handing another huge chunk of power to Brussels - without a referendum. This won't be popular, and once the document is published, it'll be increasingly clear that it is the original constitution in all but name. A series of EU summits this year will keep it on the agenda.
We hope that is the case, and that we do see some political fireworks at the summit in October and from the signing in December, if the colleagues manage to keep to their breakneck timetable. When the details of the treaty do emerge, one hopes to see taunts of "Blair's poodle" as Brown goes tamely off to Lisbon to sign the document at his (previous) master's bidding.

The bad news is that a key player in the unfolding drama will now be David Miliband, Brown's new foreign secretary – especially if, as predicted, Brown is more focused on domestic affairs. Miliband, therefore, will more likely be an active player, rather than a "bedwarmer" in the manner of his predecessor Margaret Beckett.

Unfortunately, this man is a committed Europhile, as is evident from this speech to the Max Planck Institute in February 2002.

Evidence of where his loyalties lie also come from the fact that he was founder of the openly Europhile Centre for European Reform, which is currently hosting such delights as this. And, of course, while he has been Environment secretary, he has been consistently pushing for greater EU involvement in environmental issues – of which this is a classic example.

Although in some quarters, Gordon Brown has acquired a reputation for being something of a Eurosceptic, his appointment of a strongly Europhile foreign secretary does not auger well. The new treaty negotiations, as far as the "colleagues" will be concerned, will be in safe hands.

Of course, with his interesting family background, this is not entirely surprising (more here).


A sign of the times

Not on our main beat, but certainly a sign of the times – the story of a traffic warden now fighting for his life in hospital after he was assaulted while preparing a parking ticket for a pick-up (pictured – centre of pic) delivering a wreath to the wake of a soldier killed in Basra.

One is always supposed to deplore violence, but I have absolutely no sympathy for this man. There comes a time when the only response possible to blind, malevolent bureaucracy is violence. I have felt very close to violence myself in similar situations. Local authorities have been milking motorists for years – often acting illegally – turning the valid and necessary exercise of traffic regulation into a cynical money-making exercise, relying on brute force to impose their will.

That is always the end result of unresponsive government, whether at local, national or European level. You can get away with petty oppression for so long – the ovine population is generally very tolerant (or submissive) - but there comes a point when people crack. Often, it is over minor things – unrelated to any particular issue. The violence is then completely disproportionate, and easily condemned. But that is the way things happen.

Of course, the authorities will be squeaking with indignation about the "unprovoked" attack on a "public servant" – aka tax collector – and the attackers (one of whom, it seems, has been arrested) will, undoubtedly, turn out to be low life scum. But it is the authorities, as much as anyone else, who are responsible for putting this man in hospital. Before this is over, there will be many more.


Well said!

A "take" on Blair's exit. One MP I talked to last night said, "You can be assured that there were some people there who did not clap".


Continuing the stitch-up

Even if they had deliberately planned it, the "colleagues" could not have organised a better timing for their coup d'etat on the European Council "mandate", relying as they are on minimal public scrutiny to get the thing translated into a treaty.

As long as the "Gordon Brown show" is dominating British politics, which it is likely to do for some time yet, one of most dangerous threats to the "project" – a campaign for a British referendum – will be starved of publicity and will struggle to get off the ground.

While the British media are thus preoccupied, the Portuguese, who take over the EU presidency on 1 July, can get down to work, rushing a draft treaty through the IGC quickly, before anyone notices what is going on.

Thus, Portuguese prime minister José Socrates (pictured) has told his parliament that his country would hurry what he called the "complex" task of concluding a new treaty. "Our objective is clear," he said, "not to lose the dynamic of the agreement reached in Brussels and approve as quickly as possible a new treaty for the European Union."

To see the process through, Portugal intends to launch the IGC on 23 July and Socrates is looking to have a treaty approved in October, with a formal signing in December. He then wants it ratified by all 27 member states next year, allowing it to enter force on 1 January 2009.

Portugal's EU envoy, Alvaro Mendonca e Moura, agreed that a mid-October target for approval on the treaty was challenging but do-able. "There are always differences here or there but ... the heads of government agreed on the main political issues and I don't expect the main political issues to be reopened," he said.

Technical experts will go to work in July to turn the mandate into a legal document - when they will see if political differences arise - before passing the job on to ministers in August or early September, leaving plenty of time before the 18-19 October meeting of EU leaders in Lisbon.

So the great stitch-up continues and it remains to be seen whether Brown will seek to impose his own will on the process and whether Mr Cameron will keep up the pressure for an EU referendum. On neither, would it be safe to rely.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gearing up for the fight

In some countries they are gearing up for the fight. While we still have to achieve that referendum for the constitutional ... I mean ... conventional amending treaty, in Ireland they have already been told that there will be a vote on it.

While the Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, rather gloated about the fact that the substance of the old constitution had been salvaged, his statement has been extremely useful to his opponents.

Anthony Coughlan, Secretary of the Irish National Platform EU Research and Information Centre, has fired off his first salvo. He lists
The four important things the proposed revised EU constitutional treaty would do and why democrats everywhere should oppose it.
They are:



There are plenty of other reasons but these will do as headings to start with. Read the whole document here.


Did you know?

Did you know that since 2003 more people have found themselves under London Underground trains than there have been British soldiers killed in Basra? The figures and details are on the One London blog.

The hunting of the constitution

Jens Peter Bonde (or his team) has been hunting out politicians crowing about the rescue of the EU constitution.

Thus, to add to the trawl, we have a whole galaxy of EU parliament notables.

First, we have Alexander Stubb who says, "We have salvaged 99 percent". Stubb is the Finnish conservative, co-coordinator of the biggest political group in the EP (EPP-ED), and former civil servant participating in three different intergovernmental conferences.

Jo Leinen, Chairman of the Constitutional Committee (PSE), crowed: "We kept the substance of the Constitution", Enrique Barón Crespo (also PSE), declared, "We have the same thing, but we regressed for transparency and clearness," and the Green, Gérard Onesta, happily chortled, "It's incredible to see all what they slipped under the carpet!"

Carlos Carnero (PSE) was slightly more guarded: "Formally, it's not a constitution,” he said, "but it's a big step towards the constitution." The great guru Richard Corbett (PSE), ventured: "Technical reforms and democratic reforms have been rescued." And another Green, Johannes Voggenhuber, vice-chairman of the Constitutional Committee, pronounced: "Our political union finally has a Constitution!"

He was joined by (French) Liberal, Jean-Louis Bourlanges, who told the the radio programme "Esprit public", "All the Constitution is there! Nothing is missing!"

Meanwhile, picked up by England Expects is a startling intervention by Jacques Delors, possibly – says EE - the most infamous (and effective) centralising European Commission President.

He has come out in favour of an EU referendum in France. Speaking to France 1 radio (Reported by AFP) he said, "If I was an MP today I would "vote in favour of the compromise", but he is a "supporter of a second referendum to clarify the positions and to ensure that the opposition does not stiffen".

Another mad Frog has also intervened, none other than Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. As author of the original EU constitution, he has, according to The Telegraph confirmed that the negotiating mandate agreed in Brussels was a revival of the old constitution. Also confirming other comment, he added that it had simply become more "complicated".

This is actually on his blog, where we writes: "This text is, in fact, a rerun of a great part of the substance of the constitutional treaty."

And finally … the fragrant Margot Wallström has told a Swedish paper, "It's essentially the same proposal as the old constitution." She was slightly more coy in her official statement but her unofficial pronouncement was backed by the commission's legal service, which helped in the drafting the text. "For the commission the key goal was to save as much as possible from the 2004 text. On reading and rereading the new text, one can safely conclude that most has been preserved," an official said. "The essentials have been retained."

But hey! It's just an amending treaty.


It never rains but it pours (again)

"If you have tears prepare to shed them now." Well, maybe not. After all the tragedy of Julius Caesar and the stunning speech by Mark Antony after his assassination have little to do with the petty conspiracies and tragicomedy of former President Jacques Chirac.

He is having a hard time, though. No sooner has he announced that he is not going to testify about the smear campaign waged against Nicolas Sarkozy than he is faced by another investigation.

First the Sarkozy business as summed up by, among others the New York Times:
The scandal involved false documentation that seemed to show large sums of money, presumably bribes, passing through secret bank accounts held by Mr. Sarkozy and others. Mr. Sarkozy said at the time that the scandal had been orchestrated to ruin his chances for the presidency.
Something to investigate, one might say, especially now that l'escroc Chirac has run out of immunity.

Pas du tout. It seems that even once the immunity is over one cannot be investigated for matters that happened while the immunity existed. Investigators will have to concentrate on events that took place before Chirac became president.

Fortunately, there is plenty to go on there. There is the fake jobs scandal that unfolded while M Chirac was Mayor of Paris and head of his party, RPR.
Investigators say operatives from the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR) were illegally on the Paris city payroll in a scheme to help finance the party, and that the equivalent of millions of dollars in salaries and fees were doled out.
Matters are unlikely to end there. Stories of kick-backs for sale of frigates and bank accounts in various countries are flying around and will, no doubt, be investigated. Well, actually, some doubt is felt on the subject, but President Sarkozy, who bears his predecessor no good will, has already said that there has been no deal about prosecutions.


Elsewhere in the world - 2

Things happen in other parts of the world. Honest. They are often worse than anything that happens here. That is hard to accept but this report might just convince a few of our readers.

A few weeks ago the Interantional Federation of Journalists produced a detailed reports about journalists in Russia who have died in violent or dubious circumstances. At the time they announced that Russia was the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists and media workers, the first being Iraq.

As Iraq is still going through a serious upheaval while Russia is, theoretically, at peace the first should surely be avoided to the latter.

The report is "based on the impressive work of Russia’s two media monitors, the Glasnost Defense Foundation and the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations" and adds:
For years the response from the Russian law-enforcement agencies has been inadequate. Investigations into murders of journalists have led to only 35 court cases (and 29 convictions). No information is to be had from police or prosecutors concerning over fifty other shootings, beatings and stabbings. There is an evident climate of impunity surrounding the cases where a journalist was killed for his or her professional activities. Investigations of the forty killings in this category have led to only three convictions.
The database is of some interest not least because it shows that Chechnya has claimed relatively few journalists (possibly because most are not allowed there). The biggest casualty rate is in Moscow. What more needs to be said?


The man who sold out Britain

So, prime minister Blair stood to a packed House for his final question time - taking a few anodyne questions from the leader of the opposition, David Cameron - after a record-breaking ten year reign.

There could be no doubt that we were watching a small piece of history being made. As we write, Blair was already being driven to the Palace, accompanied by his wife, to tender his resignation to the Queen. In so doing - although no other commentator will make the point - he also tenders his resignation from the de facto government of Europe, the European Council, ceding his place to his successor, Gordon Brown.

In an arcane piece of procedure, Blair will be driven to the Palace in the prime minister's car, followed by another. When he leaves, he will be driven away in that other car. Gordon Brown will then arrive in his own car and, after being "invited" by the Queen to form a government, will leave in the prime minister's car.

But he will also leave as a fully paid-up member of that European government, the European Council, bound - if the proposed treaty goes through - to serve the interests of the Union ... the European Union.

Thus, if the Merkel stitch-up holds, Brown will only have a short time as leader of what was once a proud, independent nation. He will become, by virtue of the very treaty he so far endorses, a bonded servant of the European Union and member of a fully-fledged EU institution.

On that basis, when Gordon Brown leaves the Palace later this afternoon in the prime minister's car - to feed the media frenzy on the cabinet reshuffle - it would be perhaps appropriate, although unlikely, if he acknowledged the reality.

There has already been a Cabinet reshuffle, in Europe. A new member has just joined the European Council. The shiny car in which he is driven to Downing Street should be bearing not a Union Jack but a ring of stars, to remind us of his coming servitude.

That also would be an acknowledgement of Tony Blair's true legacy to this nation. Ten years ago, he entered Downing Street to a flurry of Union Jacks, waved by enthusiastic supporters. Today, he leaves - to an unprecedented standing ovation of the House - bequeathing his successor a blue flag with twelve yellow stars.

Sign the petition NOW.


Fanning the flames

Relations between Poland and Germany, it seems, are going from bad to worse after the European Council agreement.

So says The Times which records a tale of a mocking magazine cover, photoshopped to show Merkel breast-feeding the twin leaders of Poland. This, the paper tells us with a nice choice of words, has enraged Germany and further curdled the relationship between Warsaw and Berlin.

The photo-montage in Wprost magazine, under the headline "Stepmother of Europe", places the head of the German Chancellor on top of the bare-breasted body of a 21 year old woman.

The aim was to highlight Polish dependency on Germany and explain what the magazine sees as a climbdown by the twins, president Lech Kaczynski and the prime minister Jaroslaw. Following the Polish slogan, "square root or death", to describe its position on the voting rights, Wprost sneers that it has boiled down to "milk or death" – reflecting the fact that Polish subsidies are underwritten by Germany.

On the other hand, Poland's ultranationalist deputy prime minister, Roman Giertych, has invoked Nazi memories to describe Merkel's negotiating tactics during the European Council meeting.

Her threat to push ahead even if Poland had vetoed the agreement had been, he said, tantamount to telling Polish leaders "Haende hoch!" – a phrase still associated by Poles with the commands of Nazi occupiers – thus stoking up old enmities.

Rarely, since the fall of communism, says The Times has so much tension crackled between the two neighbours. This augers ill for a trouble-free IGC.

Even "Europe" drops off the agenda here, as Blair finally hands the premiership over to Brown and the political soap opera dominates the domestic news agenda, it seems there are plenty of issues on the Continent to keep fanning the flames.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A dangerous and deliberate obfuscation

Much of the focus on the changes proposed by the "mandate" has been on headline issues such as the appointment of a full-time president and a "high representative" to act as an EU foreign minister. Perforce, less attention has been given to other changes in what are almost casually referred to as "institutional changes".

These, Blair would have us believe, are simply changes of rules to make the European Union "effective". More specifically, he told us:

This deal gives us a chance to move on, it gives us a chance to concentrate on the issues to do with the economy, organised crime, terrorism, immigration, defence, climate change, the environment, energy, the problems that really concern citizens in Europe. And this is why it was important to get out of this bind into which we had got with the constitutional treaty, to go back to making simple changes in our rules that allow us to operate more effectively now we are in an enlarged European Union, but most of all allow us to work effectively for the betterment of people inside the European Union.
In the manner of the joke about the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto, however, the key to understanding what is going on is to ask, "who's this 'us' paleface?"

To answer this, we look to the European Council "mandate" where, in paragraph 12, we find the dense but superficially anodyne statement that:

The institutional changes agreed in the 2004 IGC will be integrated partly into the TEU and partly into the Treaty on the Functioning of the Union. The new Title III will give an overview of the institutional system and will set out the following institutional modifications to the existing system, i.e. the Articles on the Union's institutions …
The reference to the "2004 IGC" is of course the code for the EU constitution and the important modification here is to the "Articles on the Union's institutions".

To find these, we have to go to Article I-19 of the failed constitution where we see the definition of the "institutional framework" and a statement of its aims. These are expressed in terms of the "Union" telling the institutions that their aims are to: "promote its values; advance its objectives; serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States; and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions".

Now, the crucial point here is that the first three of these objectives are entirely new. And, of these, the third is especially important: to: "serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States".

However, this is but a curtain raiser to another short insert in paragraph 12, which states (by way of one of the institutional changes): "the European Council (transformation into an institution…)".

This is of huge significance. Originally set up in 1972 by Jean Monnet, the European Council was presented, during its first meeting under president Pompidou as a "fireside chat" between the heads of states and governments of the then nine members of the EEC.

Indeed, the first meeting was in fact held in Pompidou's private salon, with members lounging in armchairs and even sitting by the fire, but Monnet had far greater ambitions for it. He styled it as nothing less than a "provisional government" of Europe, its task being to steer Europe though the "transition from national to collective sovereignty" (Memoirs, p. 503).

However, as is the way with the incremental development of the European Union, the European Council enjoyed a half-life outside the treaties, acquiring the appellation "summit", and reported almost universally as such by the media, growing from its origins as an informal "fireside chat" to the full-blown monster that it is today.

But, while it remained, in treaty terms, an informal body, it was formally recognised in the Nice Treaty (Article 4) which first defined its role as to "provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development" and to "define the general political guidelines thereof".

Thus, while it was seen as a meeting of heads of states and governments (now assisted by foreign affairs ministers), the inference being that they were representing their respective nations, the European Council was being drawn into the treaty maw. Although not yet a fully-fledged institution, it role was being more clearly defined as a representative body of the European Union.

Now, with this proposed change, the European Council is being defined fully as an institution. Furthermore, its aims have been set out, which it shares with the Commission, the EU Parliament and the European Court of Justice. It now will have developed into Monnet's "provisional government", acting, to all intents and purposes, as the "cabinet" of Europe.

The problem, of course, is that the members are still made up from the heads of state and governments of the member states. But, rather than representing their respective nations, they now act as a corporate body – an institution – the aims of which are, in respect of the Union, to: "promote its values; advance its objectives; serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States; and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions".

Crucially, the requirement to serve the interest of the Union comes first, the "citizens" come second and the Member States come third. The order is neither accidental nor without significance. The European Council has to put the Union first. Tony Blair's "us" is the European Union.

Serving the EU is, de facto, what the European Council already does, but this is now to become de jure. That such an important change is tucked into a paragraph of an obscure document which few will read – and fewer will understand – is another of those dangerous and deliberate obfuscations, designed to defeat easy analysis.

It also represents a very significant transfer of power from member states, our leaders having been hijacked and impressed into the service of the Union – all the more dangerous because, as far as the media and the general public is concerned, they are part of an invisible institution, one that will, to them, remain a "summit".


Zoellick makes it

The World Bank Board has unanimously approved the appointment of Robert Zoellick as that body's President. As we have pointed out before, he is not likely to be a push-over for the tranzis who do not really want to take their snouts out of the trough or reform the way the World Bank does business (though business may not be the right word. I wonder what will happen the first time he expresses, however mildly, dissatisfaction with the officialdom of the World Bank.

Elsewhere in the world

So engrossed have we been by the enthralling saga of the "mandate" and the constitution that is now just an amending treaty that we are two days behind on mentioning what has been going on in Iran, where it seems police has been cracking down on people in the streets of Teheran with some brutality.

Two days ago the New York Times published an article about the behaviour of the Iranian police towards people accused of "treason", which frequently amounts to very little more than wearing western style clothes.
Iran is in the throes of one of its most ferocious crackdowns on dissent in years, with the government focusing on labor leaders, universities, the press, women’s rights advocates, a former nuclear negotiator and Iranian-Americans, three of whom have been in prison for more than six weeks.

The shift is occurring against the backdrop of an economy so stressed that although Iran is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, it is on the verge of rationing gasoline. At the same time, the nuclear standoff with the West threatens to bring new sanctions.
We must not forget that at the same time Iran is spending a great deal of money on arming and financing Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

The blogs across the United States published the story of the police behaviour as well, with numerous rather unpleasant pictures. Here is an example on Michelle Malkin's blog, complete with rather robust challenges to many who spend a lot of time not talking about the realities of life in Iran, such as the American branch of Amnesty.

Yesterday, the New York Times apologized (same link). It seems that they have been told by unimpeachable sources from the official Iranian media that the people being beaten up were, in fact, all criminals of the darkest hue. Glad we've got that sorted. Presumably the bit about economic problems was all wrong as well. Under the Mullahs, as under Stalin, life has become better and happier.


"We made a real effort to be opaque"

It takes the China Post to tell it how it is:

The long but relatively readable constitution was turned into a short but complex document amending two existing treaties, designed to be incomprehensible to citizens.

"We made a real effort to be opaque," one senior negotiator boasted. Several countries - notably Britain, France and the Netherlands - had insisted the result must look nothing like a constitution to avoid having to hold a referendum, he said.
Where were the British journalists, when this "senior negotiator" was holding forth? Well, the Financial Times reported it as well (see end of piece).


Grumblings in Prague

Although the Czech Social Democrats (CSSD) support the Brussels agreement, according to the CTK agency, CSSD leader Jiri Paroubek still wants a referendum.

The Social Democrats, says the agency, "first of all appreciate that the reform treaty retains the basis of the EU constitution" and that the summit agreed on the mandate for an inter-governmental conference. He said that the Czech government would discuss the mandate in the parliament and would take into account the position of the senior opposition Social Democrats.


The same in Spain

First Ireland, then Finland and now Spain.

Jose Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, joins the growing list of EU politicians who is claiming that the EU constitution is back, arguing that, "A great part of the content of the European constitution is captured in the new treaties. Everyone has conceded a little so that we all gain a lot."

He is backed by Diego Lopez Garrido, the parliamentary spokesman for the Spanish Socialist Party, who says that, "99 per cent" of the original constitution had survived,” going one better (nine percent, actually) than Bertie Ahern, the Irish premier.

A similar view prevails in the EU parliament where, says The Telegraph, there was almost an air of celebration. Our stage German, Elmar Brok, the chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, hailed the agreement, proclaiming: "Despite all the compromises, the substance of the draft EU constitution has been safeguarded."

Brok is at one with Hans-Gert Poettering, president of the parliament, who told the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that while a proposed anthem and flag had been dropped, "the substance of the constitution has been retained".

This meshes with Merkel's comment in the aftermath of her "victory" in the small hours of Saturday, when she declared that "The fundamentals of the constitution have been maintained in large part."

On the home front, The Telegraph tells us that Michael Carpenter, legal adviser to the Commons European scrutiny committee, is in agreement with this growing "consensus". Legal advice prepared by him for MPs points out that, "it appears that all the significant changes made in the constitutional treaty have been reintroduced in one form or another".

The crazy thing is that Blair is also right. What is intended to emerge when the IGC goes to work on the "mandate" is indeed an amending treaty. It will amend the existing treaties ... turning them into the EU constitution in all but name. And, since Blair agreed the same document as Zapatero, it is the same in Spain.


We're all deviants now

Hannan, in The Telegraph is running a petition for a referendum and Open Europe is collecting names of politicos who are admitting that it's a constitution by any other name.

The Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has told today's Irish Times that, "At the end of the day, 90 percent of what was in the constitution is still there. I make no secret of the fact that I would rather the form that was set out. We were not going to get it that way that we wanted it, so we had to go back and look at the issue."

The Tories have actually managed to get their act together and put something up on their website about a referendum, UKIP is currently leading on a story about the EU banning natural paintbrushes, and Channel 4 has decided that, "the Prime Minister was in knockabout form as he defended the new European Union treaty agreed at the eleventh hour last week".

Tony is actually more focused on a new job in the Middle East, despite confident predictions that he was to be the new EU president, and is leaving Brown to clean up his mess. Peter Riddell, in The Times, however, reckons that Brown can tough it out without going for a referendum.

Meanwhile, Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman offers his "take" on recent events in Brussels: EU leaders began their meeting with a constitutional text, he writes. Then, over many hours, they added endless footnotes, protocols and "clarifications", which became more important than the original text itself. "The result", he says,

…is almost impossible to read or understand. And that is entirely intentional. Many things happened at the summit. But perhaps the most important was that the EU finally abandoned the idea that it wants ordinary Europeans to understand what it is doing.
He concludes that the weekend marked the end of the EU's experiment with transparency and popularity. The Union, he suggests, "will once again inspire interest only among a small band of specialists, devotees and deviants."

Ho hum. Back to being a deviant.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Ducking and diving

Try these extracts from the debate following the prime minister's statement on the European Council:

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Are any of the issues contained in the mandate to the IGC capable of being reopened, or is the mandate the final word on what can be discussed at the IGC?

The Prime Minister: The detail of what was agreed obviously has to be negotiated at the intergovernmental conference, but the key elements have been agreed.
Notice how Blair does not answer the question: "Are any of the issues … capable of being reopened?" Instead, he says, "the key elements have been agreed", but we know this already. Can they be reopened? Of course they can, but Blair does not want to admit this.

Now look for a different technique:

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can help me. Surely we are talking not about a treaty but about a discussion in the Council of Ministers, which is a treaty organisation and therefore cannot negotiate its own treaties. In fact, a new treaty is the responsibility of the IGC, and that works on the basis of unanimity, not the simple majority voting of the Council of Ministers. So we now have a situation in which we can, and in my view should, still veto the whole unnecessary business. More importantly, can my right hon. Friend tell us how, assuming that the treaty pops up in October, we in this House can discuss it and decide on it before the IGC?

The Prime Minister: There will of course be ample opportunity, through the ratification process, to have a full debate on it. Why would we want to veto this treaty? It provides the means for a more effective working of the European Union. Let us be clear about this: my hon. Friend, and some Opposition Members, would call for a referendum even if we added a comma to the constitutional treaty, because what they really want is to take us out of Europe, and they might as well be honest about it.
Austen gets the "Council of Ministers" wrong – he means European Council, but never mind. The key is that he asks a two-part question. So, what does Blair do? He answers the second part and ignores the first, adding a political jibe to get a reaction from the House and thus divert attention from the fact that he hasn’t answered the question fully.

Pure theatre – but essentially dishonest.


Another one

Finland has now joined Ireland in declaring that that the new "treaty" is essentially the same as the failed EU constitution.

This was from Finland's State Secretary for EU Affairs Jari Luoto who, according to YLE News, said that there were few differences between it and "the constitutional treaty which has already been ratified by Finland's Parliament".

Nevertheless, he does not believe that Finland will hold a referendum. He, thinks that the same ratification procedure can be used.


Like trying to bottle smoke

It was his penultimate appearance at the despatch box, the prime minister in the House at 3.30 pm precisely, to tell us about his negotiating "success" at the European Council.

The treaty is "quintessentially" in Britain's interests, he said. It would allow the EU to focus on the issues which really mattered, he said. This is absolutely right for Britain, he said.

The Boy Dave said Tony had "broken" a promise to hold a referendum.

But, said Tony, this wasn't a constitutional treaty, it was an amending treaty, so we didn't need a referendum. It would, "take months ... sucking energy out of the country for months". Dave was simply "going through the motions" by demanding an EU referendum.

Dave said Tony had sanctioned the transfer of powers from Britain to Brussels "without the permission of the British people".

Tony said all Britain's "red lines" had been preserved.

Dave said they hadn't.

Tony said they had.

Dave said they hadn't …

Debate in Parliament on this issue don't work. We need a referendum. "Let the people decide," says Dave. For once, he's right.


Did he have legal advice?

No, this is not another blog about legal advice on the Iraqi war. Not only would I find the subject deadly dull and over-written by numerous hacks and bloggers but I am also doubtful about such a thing as a legal war. A just war, I can understand, or an unjust one; a stupid war, an unnecessary war – these are all clear concepts that can be argued and discussed. But a legal or illegal war? According to whose laws?

This posting will deal with a subject that actually does have a legal or illegal aspect to it and that is employment. The European Union has, as we know, controls such matters as public procurement and movement of workers. In other words, Britain cannot simply announce that it will hire only British people for whatever jobs (say in the whole of the Olympics charade) there may be.

Nevertheless, that is exactly, Gordon Brown, Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister-in-Waiting, said earlier this month. “British workers for British jobs” he proclaimed, though, to be fair, once the details became apparent, the promise did not seem to be quite as firm as all that.
Mr Brown's officials said that Employment Partnerships were being established by the Government with businesses in the retail, hotels, hospitality and security sectors, as well as the Olympic Delivery Authority, to provide support for up to 200,000 unemployed individuals to find work.

The Olympic Delivery Authority would work with its contractors and suppliers so that employment opportunities are made available through Jobcentre Plus for unemployed people in London and the South East with the first 500 jobs likely to be advertised from this autumn onwards.
Nevertheless, Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty’s Government
What legal advice the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken on his statement that he wants to ensure that the jobs available in Britain are available for British workers who are looking for jobs, in the light of European Union employment legislation and the single market.
HMG’s response was quite extraordinarily off the mark even by that body’s standards:
The Chancellor's statement referred to the role of local employment partnerships in providing help for benefit claimants. A number of major retailers have signed agreements to work with Jobcentre Plus to help long-term benefit claimants back into employment. Through local employment partnerships, employers will offer support and training to help benefit claimants into work, by offering work trials, subsidised employment as part of the New Deal, guaranteed interviews and mentoring.
In other words, nothing much has changed, we think. Various attempts will be made to help people off unemployment benefits (though clearly not off disability benefits, whose reform is still discussed) to jobs. Of course, if despite all those trials, subsidised employment (what on earth is that and how does this help people who are applying for jobs and are capable of fulfilling their tasks properly?), guaranteed interviews, mentoring, whatnot, the people in question are still less employable than the East Europeans then the jobs will go to the latter.

The chances are that Mr Brown did not bother to have any legal advice, a habit he will have to acquire as far as the European Union is concerned, not least because he is facing an attempted coup d’êtat by the European Council with his outgoing predecessor apparently destroying his right to negotiate in any meaningful sense. This is not true but Gordon Brown will have to fight a battle and getting legal advice on all these matters might be a good way of starting.


Are they insane?

Just when you thought this site had become a "toy" free zone and it was safe to come back – wham! A "toy" post with a vengeance.

There is, however, no levity here. Once again, on a day when we are also reading reports of another roadside bomb in Afghanistan, killing and maiming solders in a "Snatch" Land Rover, we have to record the utter stupidity of the MoD, which seems determined to put troops in harm's way, with inadequate protection.

The proximate cause of our ire is a report in yesterday's Mail on Sunday headlined, "The 80mph 'Mad Max' monster targeting the Taliban".

This, in the usual gushing, uncritical style of idiot journos, talks up a "four-ton monster truck" which is supposed to be "the British Army's new weapon designed to take on insurgents on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan."

It is, we are told, the British-made, the Supacat Weapons Mounted Installation Kit which "boasts awesome firepower which will be unleashed early next year," adding, "British and other Nato troops are being targeted by roadside bombs and daily firefights."

Yet, although we are told that, "Infantry soldiers have complained existing Land Rovers provide insufficient protection from the bombers," the one thing that struck commenters on both the Mail site and the Army forum was the lack of protection.

Inspection of the photograph does suggest that there could be a modicum of mine protection, in that the front wheel arches do seem to have angled armour, but the position of the gunner is still extremely exposed – dangerously so – yet 130 of these contraptions are to be sent to Afghanistan, where mines are a serious problem.

Yet again, as with the Pinzgauer Vector and the Duro we see this insane obsession with putting drivers and crew over the front wheels, in the centre of the cone of destruction, where they are at their most vulnerable. As the picture shows, of an ordinary Land Rover which survived a mine strike, the crew would be better off in that type of vehicle

Just when we thought we were getting through to the MoD, with its purchase of the Mastiffs, which are turning out to be highly popular with the troops, we then get this regression to type.

One wonders whether these fools have ever seen vehicles which have taken mine or IED strikes (above) and, if so, why they are so willing, it seems, to send troops to their certain deaths.


"I didn't surrender"

With Blair scheduled to make a Commons statement at 3.30 this afternoon, the attempt at damage limitation is in full flow, with the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror.

Headlined, "I didn't surrender sovereignty", with the strap, "Blair: I didn't give away any powers at EU summit", the Mirror's political hack, Rosa Prince, thus previews the prime minister’s statement, telling us that Blair will tell MPs today, "he did not surrender any of Britain's sovereignty in last week's European treaty negotiations."

The line will be the narrative developed during the post-Council press conference. He will insist he did not give way on his "red line" negotiating positions on policing, justice, tax, welfare, labour laws and foreign security issues, with the fair Rosa then offering the view that Gordon Brown, "will be hoping that Mr Blair's performance is strong enough to see off Tory calls for a referendum over the Reform Treaty".

Compare and contrast with The Daily Telegraph leader, headed: "We won't be fooled out of our referendum" – ("bamboozled" in the print edition). It declared of the agreement:

This is worse than we expected. We had assumed that, in order to sustain their line that their new treaty was different from the constitution, British ministers would have to rewrite some parts of the draft. In fact, the two texts are virtually identical. Titles have been altered, terminology tweaked, but there have been no substantive changes.

This is, to all intents and purposes, the same text that was rejected by 55 per cent of French voters and 62 per cent of Dutch voters two years ago - although you would not know this from listening to the BBC's gullible coverage. The changes are emendations, not amendments; decorative, not structural.
The leader concludes with the simple, almost plaintive statement, "The plain fact is that we were promised a referendum. We want what we were promised."

There, for once is the political divide, writ large. The Boy Dave will be answering the prime minister for not very much longer, and this will be his opportunity to stake his claim for the high ground on the "treaty" agreement.

Already under attack for failing to raise the issue during a television programme over the weekend, a great deal will rest on whether he can raise the political stakes sufficiently to keep the "Europe" in the news.

Unfortunately, the political drama queens are already chasing after the prospect of an early general election and, whether an intentional ploy or not, this is certainly having the effect of driving the referendum campaign off the front pages.

As Blair – presumably with the assent of the soon-to-be leader, Brown – tries to play down the significance of the Brussels agreement, there is a great deal to play for.