When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? — John M. Keynes
The English version of the European Union reform treaty was published this morning, a few days later than the French version which came out last week.
The Constitutional treaty is a dead letter. Is the Reform treaty just an attempt to impose the controversial "constitution" by a more roundabout way?
Well, the UK Conservatives certainly seem to think so and demand an immediate referendum on the new treaty. Their reasons for asking for this are dressed in the language of principle, but as so often with the use of referenda, high principle is more like low politics. The Conservatives are highly sceptical of British membership of the European Union. Many of them advocate complete withdrawal, and they believe- indeed hope- that the British would certainly reject any treaty, no matter what.
I do not share their view.
Firstly, upon a close examination of the text of the new treaty, it is radically different from the Constitution. In particular it makes plain the sovereignty of the member states and affirms their right to leave the Union. It also sets out far more clearly the powers of National Parliaments over the European Union itself, and makes clear that its legal force is as a set of amendments to the original treaties, rather than a replacement to those founding treaties. To that end, the Reform treaty is actually less than half the size of the Constitutional treaty.
Furthermore, the entire legal basis of the Reform treaty is different from the constitutional treaty. Much of the treaty is in fact fairly non-controversial. No mention of flags and anthems, and while establishing a separate legal identity for the Union, it reaffirms the powers of the member states.
Now I have spent some time reading through the documents today.
William Hague announced at 7.45 this morning that his party opposed the treaty and that they would demand a referendum. So not only had the Conservatives apparently read through the treaty since dawn, they had also taken the serious step of deciding that it was completely wrong and should be entirely opposed before many people had even eaten breakfast.
Please bear in mind that the document that was published was a discussion draft, and is by no means the completed treaty. However, the Conservatives refuse to engage in discussing precisely what they oppose, just simply that they do oppose. It may be that they have been in deep thought since the French version was published, considering all the nuances in that language, but there is no evidence that more than a handful of the Conservative front bench can even read French, and those that do, do not seem to have been engaged in detailed discussions with their mono-lingual colleagues. So they must have adopted their position in the very brief period between the publication of the English text and appearing on the Today programme.
This is a Party that seriously believes that it is a contender for power?? To denounce a treaty that they can hardly have read is a contemptible display of banal and shallow politics. This is what shows up Cameron's house of cards. Their positions are based on ignorance- bullspiel and spin- and not considered or thoughtful and still less informed positions in any way.
William Hague should be ashamed of himself and anyone who wants the best for our country should note that the skiving Tories continually fail to do their home work. On Europe, as on much else, the Conservatives adopt ignorant and often extreme positions without even bothering to check their facts.
Those facts have changed, but the prejudices of the Tory Party will not allow them to even consider this. They press on with a dangerous and negative approach without pausing for breath. This immaturity is what makes the Conservatives unfit for office and will tragically continue to hand power to an over-mighty Labour party that despite its long, and increasing, list of faults at least has the advantage of appearing to take politics seriously.
I am happy to support any necessary referendum, but on the principle that significant constitutional change is involved. After the decisive rejection of the Constitutional treaty, the Reform treaty is now amendments of previous treaties, and therefore by definition no longer an issue of changing the constitutional status of the UK (indeed it is arguable about whether there was any fundamental constitutional change even in the original Constitutional treaty). At the least more reading of the new treaty causes me to reconsider my previous view that a referendum should indeed take place.
The Conservative position is simply absurd, and the vehemence with which they hold onto a policy based on ignorance is not far short of disgraceful.