Monday, May 13, 2013

EU referendum: the genie is out of the bottle

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I rarely read the Boris Johnson effluvia, not least because I don't think a fully-paid up politician should have a column in a newspaper – or take money from newspapers. The media is supposed to be scrutinising politicians, not employing them.

Even more bizarre is the practice of his employer taking his column, for which it has paid the man, and then treating it as news as a statement from "the London Mayor" (illustrated above). This is wrong. He was writing in his capacity as an employee of a business called the Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 

It also says very little for the news values of this business that it chooses to headline the claim by its employee that "this country's workers are plagued by 'sloth' and under-perform compared with their foreign rivals" – something which is dead easy to write when you are getting £250,000 a year for writing a crappy column for the Telegraph Media Group Ltd, on top of your Mayor's salary of £143,911 plus expenses (£11,445.93 last year). 

However, far more interesting – insofar as anything Johnson says is interesting – is the bit tucked in at the end of the news piece where we learn that The Great Man thinks that the EU will only take us seriously on renegotiation, "if they think we will invoke Article 50, and pull out, if we fail to get what we want".

Never mind that this dismal creature cannot actually think straight. If he was not too grand to read the Booker column, he could have learned that the only way to get what we want is to invoke Article 50. Like Samuel Johnson, who observed of a woman preaching that it was like a dog walking on his hind legs. "It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all". So it is with Boris and Article 50. 

However, it is hugely entertaining to find that the groupescules are squeaking with rage at my references to Article 50, and have been particularly active this weekend in condemnation of Booker and myself, as well as polluting the Booker comments.

However, they are too late. The genie is out of the bottle, and we even have the loss-makingGuardian picking up the overpaid Boris and his reference to Article 50, while even John Redwood has discovered it and Farage has joined in the fun in the Daily Star.

Farage is accusing Mr Cameron of trying to obscure the truth of what would be involved if Britain was to leave the EU. He says that, under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, a country wishing to withdraw had to action Article 50 of the treaty, which then provided for a two-year "period of grace" while negotiations took place. 

"He isn't haggling, he is wriggling," Farage says. "The Prime Minister is obscuring the truth. One can only imagine it is to fool his own backbenchers because it doesn't fool our friends on the Continent".

This has even made ITV News, which has former Conservative Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth adding to Cameron's disquiet, by saying that the prime minister is "wrong" to think he can renegotiate Britain's EU membership. 

"David Cameron is thinking he can persuade the golf club to play tennis, and his negotiating position is impossible because he is saying, 'If I don't succeed, I will continue to play golf'", Forsyth says. 

With the agencies also picking up the Farage quote, Article 50 is now spreading far and wide, even to be found in the Ellesmere Port Pioneer and (here's real fame for you), the Solihull News.

Despite all this, Mr Cameron, embarking on a three-day trip to the US, is complaining about people discussing a "hypothetical" referendum. There isn't going to be one tomorrow, he says, so, "What matters is making sure that we do everything we can to reform the EU, make it more flexible, more open, more competitive".

The poor man also wants to "improve Britain's relations with the EU, change those relations so that when we have the referendum before the end of 2017 we give the British public a real choice, a proper choice".

But the real choice, the proper choice, is Article 50, and it isn't going to go away. Much as the groupescules hate it, it is now part of the political discourse.