Clegg’s instincts are right but his bid to assert himself just looks desperate

Repatriation of powers from the European Union to Britain remains a thorn in David Cameron’s side. The movement for “Europe Light” initially dreamt up, I believe, by William Hague back in the mists of time, is really causing the Prime Minister a lot of problems, Nick Clegg being the latest.

The issue is creating difficulty principally because it is a total non-starter. The EU treaties, to which successive British governments have given their assent, are designed to be treaties, international agreements to which all parties adhere. This is an age-old idea universally recognised in more or less its present form for at least 2000 years. Once you have decided to be in, any changes require the agreement of all parties. Unilateral tinkering with the EU by the UK on its own is quite simply not on the agenda. Whatever Britain wants will have to be agreed by the other 26 member states.

Nick Clegg has now finally joined the growing ranks of those who see sense. It is just sad that it took him so long given his background in the EU as both an MEP and as a member of staff in the cabinet of a European Commissioner. Clegg seems to be ruling out trying to use the forthcoming revision of the Lisbon Treaty to make an attempt to repatriate powers, maybe because he is catching up with the idea that other EU member states may just tell Britain to get real. No-one wants to be associated with failure, least of all a struggling leader of Britain’s third political party on the verge of annihilation.

Repatriation of powers is pure smoke and mirrors as you read here a long time ago. Theresa May’s cack-handed approach to taking back 130 justice and home affairs powers with a view to renegotiating opting back into some of them later bears all the hall marks of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. It would be laughably pathetic if it weren’t so serious.

Meanwhile poor Nick Clegg is trying to inject some common sense into the coalition, now driven by a clique of feral Tories to whom being anti-EU with withdrawal top of the agenda is a raw and terrifying religion. These are the people who secured the leadership of the Conservative Party for David Cameron, and it’s now pay back time.

It is deeply tragic that the future of our country is in the hands of very small bunch of nutters. There are, of course, things in the EU which need change and reform – it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. However, it’s the same with any body politic wherever it may be. No-one seriously thinks Britain is all sweetness and light and that everything is perfect.

If Clegg were stronger and the Liberal-Democrats less excited by power, the relationship with the EU could well be the issue that tears the coalition apart. Yet that’s not the way it’s going. The coalition is much more likely to be destroyed by a visceral and seemingly unresolvable conflict between the Tory Eurosceptic zealots and the forces of government both in the UK and the EU.

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