Simon Carr's Sketch: The Maastricht Defence is no excuse for a broken promise

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The Independent Online

A recent World Value Survey shows that Pakistanis are among the least trusting population in the world. Just 31 per cent of them believe that "most people are trustworthy". Britain comes in one per cent below Pakistan.

When I was involved in politics on the other side of the looking glass, a hard-bitten ex-minister asked me if we could trust a certain person. I said: "To do what?"

David Heathcote Amory asked the Prime Minister to recall a statement Mr Brown made earlier in the year. The inspiring, mid-honeymoon, new-politics sentiments about "the people's voice" and "the right of all British people to be heard". How did that fit with this refusal to grant a referendum, and didn't he realise the damage he was doing to trust in the political process? From his answer he did not.

Kate Hoey, a Labour MP, skewered the Government's Maastricht Defence. Ministers repeatedly say that the Tories didn't allow a referendum on the two far more powerful treaties they passed. Ms Hoey said: "The difference is that those governments didn't promise a referendum. My government did." (A powerful "my", I can't quite identify why.)

And David Cameron put together a case as clearly as anyone can. The red lines were the same as Blair's red lines, then as now. "No great constitutional change" then as now. It's a constitution, then as now and, as the European Scrutiny Committee said, "pretending otherwise is likely to be misleading". So why no referendum?

The Prime Minister's defence is well known. But we can all agree that the way he attacks the motives of his critics is systematic and unpleasant. It's not "xenophobic" to resist the EU, as David Winnick said. It's a lack of trust in the political class to put the national interest before the interests of their class. In spite of that, it's impossible to seriously suggest a referendum. Nobody knows what the hell is in the damn thing. It's 63,000 words of legalistic eurobabble.

So Vince Cable's position is the most attractive: the cumulative effect of the various treaties has produced something utterly different from what was intended in 1975 and it is time to vote on an in-or-out proposition. And we can campaign on a slogan: No diminution of national competences! Increased subsidiarity and parliamentary initiative rights!

NB: the PM repeatedly assured the House there would be ample time for MPs to say all they wanted to on the Treaty. So, would the debate not be timetabled? My word, Gordon veered away from "ample time". Everyone knows they can trust Gordon. But to do what?

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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