Loyalty is something that’s truly only rendered upwards, and willingly, rather than demanded downwards.
Number 10 Downing Street and Conservative Central Office, however, appear to be somewhat ignorant of this fairly basic rule of human interaction. Two days ago, clearly discomfited by the support likely to be attracted by Clacton MP Douglas Carswell’s Private Member’s Bill for the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act, to be debated in Parliament today, they decided to confirm their ignorance.
Carswell’s Bill, if passed, would have the effect of withdrawing the UK from the EU, an outcome diametrically at odds with both the Conservative leadership’s dogged and increasingly unsustainable insistence that EU membership is in Britain’s best interest, and with the leadership’s transparently desperate desire not to have to put its insistence to the test of popular consent.
So, aware of the likely pressure to support it from the constituents of already rebellious and EU-sceptic Tory MPs, as well as the widespread disillusionment with the EU in the country admitted by Foreign Secretary William Hague in Berlin on Monday of this week, not to mention the potential for acute political mischief to be created by Labour in abstaining and thereby causing maximum embarrassment for Cameron, Number 10, and CCHQ have decided to demand some of that elusive loyalty.
Thanks to Guido Fawkes, we know that Tory MPs have all been circulated with a list of ‘helpful’ questions which they ‘suggest’ backbenchers ask front bench ministers during the debate. In reality it’s the instruction to the narks, toadies and still-hopeful-of-future-promotion, under thinly-veiled courtesy but equally thinly-veiled threat of present sanctions and future non-preferment, to shape up – or else. They are, truly, questions of loyalty.
The questions themselves are naturally designed to be ‘helpful’ only to the Government’s intransigence over the EU, and awkward for the Bill’s proposer and supporters. So to redress the balance, it seems only appropriate to try and answer some of them – but ‘the Minister’ may find these answers more accurate, but infinitely less congenial.
Does the Minister agree that now is not the time to take such a drastic move, given the economic turmoil that Europe is experiencing?
On the contrary, this is exactly the right time to make such a move. The EU’s only response to the turmoil it is experiencing is to prescribe more of the failed policies which have created that turmoil in the first place. Even now its instinctive reaction is to procrastinate endlessly, and then, and only at the eleventh hour, to reach for ever more integration, regulation and intrusive bureaucracy instead of addressing the underlying causes of its troubles.
Practically all commentators agree that the EU in general and the euro-zone in particular are destined for several more years of either stagnation or decline in the absence of action to rectify the structural deficiencies of their failed monetary union experiment. Not only does it make sense, it is imperative that to speed our own recovery, we need to unshackle ourselves from this moribund bloc.
Repealing the EC Act would be a dramatic move. Does the Minister agree that the people of the UK should be consulted on such a move?
This question is utterly disingenuous. Members of this House have consistently sought to have this question put to the British people, only for the Prime Minister to consistently and resolutely set his face against it. As recently as last week he made it clear that he does not want an In/Out referendum because ‘it is not in Britain’s interest to leave’. That suggests that he is aware of what the result would be but is determined that there shall be no opportunity for the electorate to deliver it.
Does the Minister agree that, as the British people now have a vote on any future treaty change, they should also be counselled on a move as severe as withdrawing from the EU altogether?
This over-states to an almost deceitful degree the effect of the European Union Act 2011 on the necessity for the British people to be consulted. Firstly, it provides for a referendum only on amendments to the two principal European Treaties that are themselves enacted by further treaty: whereas we know that the EU is adept at devising ways of fundamentally altering the relationships and powers between itself and member-states in ways specifically designed to avoid treaty changes requiring popular consent.
Secondly, whether or not any non-treaty change involves an additional significant transfer of powers from this country to the EU as to warrant a referendum is vested in the discretion of ministers. The experience of seeing the Government sign up to measures such as the European Investigation Order and Arrest Warrant give the people no confidence that such discretion will be exercised in their interest.
The suggestion that the people be ‘counselled’ implies that the Government would subject the British people to nothing less than a shameful and biased propaganda exercise instead of allowing both sides of the argument to make their case. The House is well aware that an imbalance is likely to exist in the persuasive resources available to be deployed by the two sides of the argument, and to suggest this be augmented at taxpayer expense is repugnant.
Does the Minister agree that the audit of competencies should be completed before any major decisions on the UK’s future relationship with the EU?
The so-called ‘audit of competencies’ is little more than a Government device to defer any substantive consideration of the issue of Britain’s EU membership until after the next election. There are innumerable and publicly accessible treatises and reports produced by experts and academic institutes alike which detail precisely which competencies are vested in this country and which in the EU, covering every facet of national life. To pull these together into a cohesive statement of the present position is a matter of months at the outside, not years, and no case exists for delaying a decision on our relationship with the EU while already-done assessments are replicated.
Does the Minister agree that it is far better to consult the British people through the audit of competencies, rather than making a rash decision to unilaterally withdraw now?
The manifest flaws and irrelevance of the so-called ‘audit of competencies’ policy have already been rehearsed. The Prime Minister, however, has made it clear that it would be his intention to renegotiate competencies only after 2015, and then only if elected: and his overt commitment in any event to Britain’s membership presages nothing more decisive than an In/In referendum, as he would not contemplate recommending Britain’s withdrawal. Nothing is thereby gained by delaying.
Were ‘the Minister’ to rise and supply these answers, the consternation on the Government benches would be truly wondrous to behold. Sadly, it won’t happen – but if only………