Thursday, 8 April 2010

Monsieur Hague versus Mr Hannan

Timothy Garton-Ash's column today on foreign policy was interesting for the 'muzzle of warm words' for the EU which shadow foreign secretary William Hague offered in conversation with the Europhile Guardian commentator:

'We should be committed to a stronger European voice in the world," he says. "It is the common will to act together that is decisive." But unfortunately "European unity is lacking on so many issues". Who is this speaking? Jacques Delors? Herman Van Rompuy? No, it is William Hague, the famously Eurosceptic shadow foreign secretary, sitting in his modern corner office with its bow-window view of Parliament Square and delivering a carefully calibrated message of reassurance to the Guardian and the world.

Why? For reasons of strategic realism and electoral guile. The realism is explicit. The Tories were against the Lisbon treaty but "we have to work with what's there". That includes the EU's new foreign service, into which, he assures me, he would despatch some of Britain's brightest and best diplomats. Yes, the Tories want the repatriation of some powers, but "we've taken a strategic decision that we're not starting in government [with] a confrontation with the EU". He had an "excellent meeting" with the German foreign minister the other day. And so on. Welcome the new, pro-European Monsieur Hague.

Up to a point. Garton-Ash detects Hague's finest fudge in the balancing act.

But what, I wondered, would my friend Mr Daniel Hannan, the Conservative party's leading champion of the 'better off out' argument make of it.

The answer is that Mr Hannan has not entirely given up on the idea of a Tory government beginning with a major scrap with the EU - and today claims he may be on the brink of getting an EU treaty referendum from David Cameron after all.

Recall that the Cameron u-turn on guaranteeing a Lisbon referendum came with the pledge of a "referendum lock" to prevent the transfer of any powers - whether in future Treaties or otherwise - without a referendum.

As Next Left noted at the time, this opens the door to daily Hannanite claims that such a referendum should be triggered:

"the claim to prohibit the any "transfer of power" outside of Treaties sounds very difficult to work through. This is the devil in the detail of this claim. UKIP and Conservatives such as Messrs Cash and Hannan make contested claims that new powers are being transferred every day before breakfast. Others may challenge these claims - indeed Cameron may say they are calls for "a made-up referendum". If there are disputes of this sort, then the "referendum lock" may prove something short of a cast-iron guarantee.

And lo, today, Mr Hannan believes he has his first casus belli, or casus referendum, though admitting that the issue would be "utterly trivial".

Monsieur Hague may take solace from Mr Hannan's confidence in such matters having been proved misplaced before.

He wrote last Autumn that "I am increasingly confident that Britain will get its referendum. I’m not in a position to explain why at this stage, but our hand is stronger than is generally supposed. I know this won’t do for some of my readers, but I’m afraid that, for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it". Eight weeks later, David Cameron ditched the Lisbon referendum pledge.

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