The Sketch: Clarity falls under gravy train's wheels

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The Independent Online

Our parliamentarians made the position very clear. While the boat is still afloat, it mustn't be rocked because the Euro gravy train has been derailed after hitting the buffers and is now about to come through the back door. As with all discussion of the European project, clarity is the first casualty.

Our parliamentarians made the position very clear. While the boat is still afloat, it mustn't be rocked because the Euro gravy train has been derailed after hitting the buffers and is now about to come through the back door. As with all discussion of the European project, clarity is the first casualty.

The French and the Dutch voted against the constitution by very large margins. However, Jack Straw isn't allowed to suggest the treaty is dead or - politicians say - he will get the blame for killing it. Try repeating that to yourself three or four times, and monitor your level of incredulity. Have something inexpensive you can break when the indignation takes over. Is it gutless or spineless? There's no space for the Foreign Secretary's anatomy in this particular sketch.

"No one country can declare the constitution dead," he said. But then why not allow the referendum to go ahead? "I spelt out the Government's position very clearly on that," he insisted. "There is no point in having a referendum," (pause for reflection) "because of the uncertainty it would produce."

The Speaker had to rise to calm the House as several heads had burst. When the mess had been cleared up, the Speaker asked, to laughter, if Mr Straw wished to continue. Mr Straw plainly didn't. Mr Straw sat down.

Yes, Angela Browning had asked a better question than any managed by Liam Fox (leadership contender). "On the 13th May, the Prime Minister told The Sun that 'even if the French voted "no" we would have a referendum. That is a Government promise'."

It seems that a constitutional outrage has occurred. The Prime Minister has misled The Sun. Surely he will resign? Or maybe he'll just move on. Let's not get hung up on it. The future not the past. And don't forget there's Africa to heal.

By all accounts, the Tory sceptics have been vindicated. Everything they've been saying about the European project has been massively endorsed in the most unlikely quarter. So why weren't we warming to Dr Fox yesterday in his triumph?

Could he have given us some large, clever but above all interesting view of this enormous political project? Alas, it was out of his reach; as is the party leadership.

David Heathcoat-Amory asked for the Government to spend its presidency proposing a simpler, more democratic European Union. Mr Straw replied that's what the constitution was designed for - particularly in the way it improved national parliaments' ability to scrutinise proposed legislation.

Oddly enough, that's the one part of the constitution I've actually read. It takes 1,500 words to say that Brussels will put legislation out for scrutiny but doesn't have to act on any recommendations it receives about anything.

Jack Straw's answer to Mr Heathcoat-Amory gave me heart. The more you see of the evasions and elisions of our own heavily scrutinised parliamentarians, the less scope you'd want to give the impenetrable legislators over there.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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