I listened to BBC reports of David Cameron’s speech on Europe with increasing bafflement as it appeared that the Conservatives set out a complicated set of policies that to my mind addressed all the wrong problems.
Granted, by many standards, and certainly by Tory standards, I’m a rabid pro-European. But here are two obvious flaws in the Conservative position.
No more treaties without referendums
So for each new treaty, the Tories will make sure there’s a referendum. Awuga, wrong question alert. Ask people if they wanted the Lisbon treaty, and most often what you get in answer is why they don’t like the EU – not a specific Lisbon based answer. And if they do say no to Treaty A, then what? It doesn’t give you any specific idea why Treaty A shouldn’t be ratified, but neither does it give you any other action to take. Result? Institutional paralysis.
On this point, I think the Lib Dem line that there should be another referendum on continuing membership of the EU is probably the best way forward. It does allow for a proper debate on broad principles, and there are clear paths to follow whichever way the vote goes. It does also allow the few of us on the “pro” side of the fence the opportunity to make the case for the EU and to spell out the consequences of turning our backs on our nearest neighbours. But referendums on each and every treaty is a big, pointless commitment.
A sovereignty act
Hmm, this one is a special example of wrong headed thinking. The Conservatives appear to have noticed that some countries with written constitutions have defined institutions whose job it is to manage constitutional change. Does a supranational treaty change how Ireland or Germany is governed? Then the Irish and German constitutions show a way to check whether that change is significant.
Britain has an “unwritten constitution” which means that when change is demanded, the process to manage it is also unwritten. So the Tory plan to fix this is what? A bit of tinkering around the edge, that’s what! And lo, those wrong problem sirens sound again.
What is needed to correct the problem of an unwritten constitution is… wait for it… a written constitution! And if, as part of that, you wanted to set up a process by which the constitution could be changed if necessary, or to test whether demands made of the nation or indeed new legislation were unconstitutional, then you could do that. But a bit more tinkering to rewrite small parts of our unwritten constitution is not the answer.
Well, that’s my view anyway – what did you think about the new Conservative line on Europe?