There is still, as EU Referendum has reminded us, a fight to be had for a referendum on the EU Constitution, that wolf in sheep’s clothing The Great Ones have decided to slip into the sheepfold of all Europe’s freedom and democracy. But perhaps there is yet a sheep dog to ward it off.

Right on the heels of Brown’s on/off elections fiasco and consequent diminution of authority and trust comes a report from the Labour-dominated European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons, published yesterday.

The Committee came to some conclusions which will make uncomfortable reading for Mr. Brown. Quite how he will dodge this particular bullet remains to be seen but he will no doubt come up with yet another dishonest wheeze that will serve to keep the ball in the air a bit longer. Yet this report will, it is to be hoped, afford yet more ammunition to those of his own party (said to number anything up to 120) who want him to accede to a referendum on the Treaty.

The report will deliver some heavy hammer blows to Gordon Brown’s increasingly isolated position. For example they Committee has taken the trouble to compare Constitution Mark I with Mark II:

……in accordance with the IGC Mandate, the Reform Treaty will introduce into the existing Treaties all the “innovations” resulting from the 2004 IGC (apart from I-8 on symbols). It also shows that wherever the Constitutional Treaty restated the provisions of the EU and EC Treaties in an amended form, those amendments have been taken up in the Reform Treaty. Taken as a whole, the Reform Treaty produces a general framework which is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty.

European Scrutiny Committee, 35th Report, Session 2006-07 Para 45

It may be possible, though still dishonest, to brush off the observations of a plethora of Foreign politicians who have made this very point. To ignore a Committee of the House of Commons, nine of whose sixteen members are Labour MPs, will take an even greater degree of brass nerve than he has already displayed.

Next up was the little homily that is intoned every time the question of this being a ‘Constitutional’ treaty, the one that drones on about the ‘constitutional concept’ being abandoned. That too is nailed:

The IGC Mandate emphasises that the ‘constitutional concept’ has been ‘abandoned’ in the Reform Treaty, but it should be recalled that the ‘constitutional concept’, as referred to in the IGC Mandate, was only the proposition that the existing EU, EC and Euratom Treaties should be replaced by a single text. As the IGC Mandate itself makes clear, the intention is nevertheless to integrate the “innovations resulting from the 2004 IGC” into the existing Treaties.

European Scrutiny Committee, 35th Report, Session 2006-07 Para 46

we do not consider that references to abandoning a ‘constitutional concept’ or ‘constitutional characteristics’ are helpful and consider that they are even likely to be misleading in so far as they might suggest the Reform Treaty is of lesser significance than the Constitutional Treaty. We believe that the Government must offer evidence if it is to assert that the processes are significantly different.

European Scrutiny Committee, 35th Report, Session 2006-07 Para 49

The Committee went on to cast serious doubts on the strength and efficacy of the so-called ‘red line’ issues and called into question whether the language of the Treaty really has the effects claimed for it by HMG.

As you might expect, they welcomed the EU Council’s ostensible commitment to providing EU citizens with “full and comprehensive information” and involving them in “permanent dialogue” which is said to be “particularly important” during the IGC. We would all welcome such. Sadly we know, as the Committee has now discovered for itself, that the EU is determined not to do anything of the sort:

The evidence until now has not been consistent with these ideals, with an essentially secret drafting process conducted by the Presidency, with texts produced at the last moment before pressing for agreement. The compressed timetable now proposed, having regard to the sitting terms of national parliaments, could not have been better designed to marginalise their role.

European Scrutiny Committee, 35th Report, Session 2006-07 Para 71

The EU, of course, has considerable experience with people having lots of time to read documents they produce: let it happen and, horror of horrors, they might end up understanding them. And if they understand them, then they might not like what they read. So, the last thing that the EU needs is for National Parliaments to have one second more time than is absolutely necessary to study this Treaty and understand the terms of their emasculation.

Another matter which has caused opponents of the Treaty special concern is the apparent attempt to subordinate national parliaments to the EU. The Committee is nearly there:

We wish to emphasise that the proposals in the Reform Treaty raise a serious difficulty of a constitutional order in as much as they appear to impose, whether by accident or design, a legal duty on national parliaments “to contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union” by taking part in various described activities. National parliaments, unlike the European Parliament, are not creations of the Treaties and their rights are not dependent on them. In our view, the imposition of such a legal duty on the Parliament of this country is objectionable as a matter of principle and must be resisted.

European Scrutiny Committee, 35th Report, Session 2006-07 Para 76

Though the Committee does not go anywhere near as far as one would wish, its strictures represent a serious blow to Gordon Brown. In essence the Committee is pouring a lot of cold water on the Prime Minister’s position on the Constitution, echoing many of the strictures that those of us who oppose this treaty root and branch have been saying since Vanity Blair tripped off on his farewell tour and popped in to Berlin dash off his signature a few days prior to ceasing to be Prime Minister.

There are also some hard questions on the amount of time that the Government had to consider the IGC Mandate in June 2007:

We were also struck by the evidence given on 4 July that those representing the UK did not see the draft IGC Mandate until 5:00 pm on 19 June, even though the European Council was due to commence just over 48 hours later. We wrote to the Minister on 11 July asking to be told whether responsible Ministers were consulted about the draft mandate during that brief period and for an account of such consultations. We also asked for the Government’s views on whether it was acceptable for a process which had taken two years then to be “bounced” into the European Council in two days. Although the Minister replied to our letter on 31 July, he did not offer any comment on this point.

European Scrutiny Committee, 35th Report, Session 2006-07 Para 11

It is, of course, a classic EU tactic to make sure that documents are available for the least time possible. The last thing they want is for anyone actually to have adequate time to study them lest they discover all too well that the document is designed to blag entire Nations. The Government’s failure to respond to Parliament’s concerns is both typical and unsurprising.

It remains to be seen what, if any, effect this all has on the group of Labour MPs who are talking about forcing a referendum. It ought to make them sit up and take note and to say to themselves: ‘this is one decision we would rather the people make’. Perhaps too it will embolden them to tell Brown to live up to his claim to be someone who ‘listens to the people’.

Most of us would amend the phrase to ‘listens to the people, hears them and acts upon what he hears’. If he did that he might restore some credibility to his reputation, but only if he does so soon. If he has to be dragged kicking and screaming to a Referendum, then surrender at the very last minute will not save him from the righteous contempt of the people.

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