In politics, it's best to accuse your opponents of your most obvious fault

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The Independent Online

Do you know how the horizontal provisions of Article 51 will affect subsidiarity? Do you want to know? Do you want to know how QMV relates to the communitisation of CSFP? Don't even pretend to start an answer, just wallow in your shameful ignorance.

This is really basic stuff. It's pitiful how little you know. It may even be against the law. These are the very first steps in the Euro-Gov 101. But you don't even know what the Council of Ministers does, do you? All right: what?

What does it do that the European Parliament can't do? You're waffling. All right: here's a direct question. Can the European Parliament initiate legislation?

In politics you accuse your opponent of your own most obvious fault; you see how infected I've become.

I could no more answer these questions than parse the subordinate clauses of a Serbo-Croatian particle physics manual. I heard Jack Straw jeering at the Tories for suggesting the European Parliament should initiate legislation, that's all.

He'd also just been jeering at them for wanting to pull out of Europe (the opposite crime, apparently).

It was an Opposition Day debate and the Tories had chosen as a subject the desirability of a referendum on the European Constitution. There is, as we speak, a convention drafting proposals for a Euro-constitution. It has been famously described by Peter Hain as nothing more than a tidying-up exercise.

Whenever the Tories disagree with this, the Prime Minister accuses them of wanting to pull out of Europe. He said so again just before the debate, and Mr Thing managed to land quite a decent punch by roaring at him: "The only person to have run on a manifesto of pulling out of Europe is him." In 1983, since you ask.

Michael Ancram kicked off the debate for the Tories in a perfectly reasonable way. Many will be disappointed by that but there it is. He made the uncontroversial point that referendums were reserved for constitutional matters. The Government denies a European constitution is a constitutional matter. Mr Ancram said: "I can't see that a constitutional treaty proposing a constitution can't have constitutional implications."

That was something at least we could all understand. He went on to remind us that it was an EU mission "to reconnect government with citizens". Yes, that sounds like something a referendum would do.

He went on. Parliament is sovereign, sovereignty is granted by the people and it shouldn't be alienated except by authority from the people.

This is all pretty persuasive stuff, whatever you want to say about Maastricht and the SEA in 1986.

Michael Spicer asked a very direct question. Would Britain veto any proposal for a single foreign and defence policy? A single foreign and defence policy is something the Prime Minister ferociously declares will never happen. Mr Straw answered Michael Spicer in a way so slippery that I couldn't find a denial in it.

We should watch the progress of this, if only to be able to laugh at the Prime Minister. It might be worth signing away our foreign policy to Europe, just to see Tony Blair explaining that's what he meant all along.