Tuesday 16 October 2007

The thin and worthless red line

There is apparently no truth in the rumour that a couple in Connaught Square have been threatened with an ASBO by Westminster City Council. This allegedly followed complaints that their neighbours had been kept awake all night by uproarious laughter, as the Blairs repeatedly watched a recording of Gordon Brown’s humiliation at Prime Minister’s Questions last week. Still, it must have been a dream come true, particularly for Cherie.

Who would have predicted that the man with the Big Clunking Fist would land it so unerringly on his own chin? It took Tony Blair years and a hugely unpopular war to destroy his credibility; Gordon Brown has accomplished it in little more than two weeks. The longest courtship in British political history has been followed by the shortest honeymoon.

The divorce, however, could prove a longer-running saga than the current Mills-McCartney bust-up. Mr Brown has a secure majority in Parliament, and no-one can force him to hold a General Election before 2010. So let’s turn our attention to another vote he is determined not to give us – no, please don’t turn over. This may make your eyes feel heavy, but it’s really important.

However much we may dislike Gordon Brown or David Cameron, can’t we at least agree that we’d prefer to be governed by a British politician we stand a chance of removing, rather than some unelected and faceless bureaucrat in Brussels? (There is another issue, about whether a Scot should be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom under the present constitutional settlement, which is hugely unfair to the English, but that is a subject for another day.)

We must all hope that Mr Brown is on rather better form this week, as he defends Britain’s “red lines” at the summit with other European leaders in Lisbon, than he was against Mr Cameron last Wednesday. But we also have the word of the Labour MP who chairs the Commons’ European Scrutiny Committee that these “red lines” are worthless because they will “leak like a sieve”. The same Committee last week confirmed what every other European leader has been saying all along, namely that the Reform Treaty is indeed the rejected Constitution under another name.

Now, since British supporters of the European project are not exactly renowned for telling the plain, unvarnished truth, it is only fair to acknowledge that they are right on one point. This new treaty does not cede as much power to Brussels as the Single European Act, passed with comparatively little fuss in the 1980s, or the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. The latter, shamefully rammed through Parliament by a nominally Conservative government, made us all citizens, without our consent, of the newly created entity called the European Union.

The significance of the new Reform Treaty is that it will complete the transformation of the EU into a state. Once that is done, it will be possible to go on tightening the ratchet of “ever closer union” without ever again seeking the approval of national governments through treaties, let alone consulting their occasionally troublesome electorates.

That is not just the view of some maverick right-wing columnist, going quietly insane on a Northumberland hilltop, but of Gisela Stuart: the German-born (so presumably not naturally Europhobic) Labour MP who was one of Britain’s two official representatives on the Convention that drew up the Constitution.

So, just for once, that clichĂ© about “drinking in the last-chance saloon” is absolutely accurate. No-one under 50 has ever been offered a chance to vote directly on this most important of political issues. And most of us who did vote “yes” in 1975 were conned into believing that we were signing up to a free trade area, not giving away our right to self-government.

We the people must be given the final say that we were explicitly promised at the last General Election. Lobby your MP and sign up now at iwantareferendum.com.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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