The Sketch: Hague takes centre stage in the last days of Lisbon

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The Independent Online

Another last day of Lisbon in the Commons. The Third Reading bouquets were handed round the House bringing proud tears to all eyes.

Winners: Hague, obviously. Miliband showed well, very well actually. And Jim Murphy who crashed and burned over Reg and Leg has risen from his own ashes as a lugubriouslyhumorous presence.

Losers: Patricia Hewitt. Hague commiserated with her on the "tragic news" that Peter Mandelson might be getting a second term as EU Commissioner. Shouts of laughter.

The Lib-Dems. Never will Clegg be able to promise "a new sort of politics" based on "letting the people have their say". Hang on, he promised exactly that on Saturday.

And probably the Government. The arcane argument about whether the treaty is a constitution has no clear answer. Geraldine Smith said "some people just don't get it". Yes but that's 80 to 90 per cent of the population. The arcane argument is still a combative draw but the popular argument has clearly been lost.

If nothing else, Hague told us, the treaty establishes for the first time a "single legal personality" for the EU (as opposed to the EC, for my anorak friends). And this "explicit personality across all pillars" was a thing Blair would not wear. "At our insistence," Hague reminded us of the then-PM's words, "it's been ruled out".

The legal commentary on this point can be digested to the one word: "Yee-owza!"

The self-amending nature of the treaty has a safeguard (cheers). But it depends on parliamentary power (groans). They keep saying power has been returned to national parliaments, but we've seen too often what that means (rock all).

Miliband's case for the treaty makes much sense, for those who like that sort of thing. But when he said the referendum had only been promised by Blair in order "to clear the air" he made quite a mistake. It was supposed to be a constitutional question, not a party political fudge.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the referendum, the summing-up does allow a great opportunity for the Conservatives.

They didn't split. Bill Cash made many cogent points damaging the Government more than his own front bench (amazing everyone). Hague was able to say that Ken Clarke's anti-referendum position had been a lot more consistent and coherent than the Government's three positions on the subject.

And most important, when the EU siphons off more powers to itself (what, you don't think it will?) Britain will say ever more angrily: "Nobody asked us". Thus, Labour is acting as a "false friend" to the EU. And therein lies the Tory opportunity. But heaven only knows how they take advantage of it.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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