The Sketch: The art of saying two things at once, and nothing at all

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The Independent Online

The House was meeting at the behest of Michael Connarty's European Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise and vote on some piece of egregious euro-creep, bringing our criminal justice functions into the jurisdiction of Europe. A debate like this is heroic rather than practical; one of the very few members attending recalled that a minister had frankly said that the Government didn't have to abide by the vote if it didn't want to, and that resistance was futile. It's the sort of parliament Henry VIII would have recognised.

Euro technicalities are such that it is impossible to oppose any of these Brussels initiatives properly without a degree in constitutional studies.

But if you acquired that degree you'd count as a de facto member of the political class. And then you'd have no incentive to properly oppose anything that comes out of Brussels. That's the catch.

Nothing has done more to reduce Parliament's role in national life. But (or so) almost nobody turns up to debate.

Brussels itself - consummate political operators - know how to proceed. They would be delighted that someone of Joan Ryan's stature is put in charge of its proposals in Westminster. Ignoring the opportunities for ridicule that she temptingly presents, we can all agree that she lacks the sort of clarity that would allow us all to understand exactly what is going on. That's essential.

Then it's also useful to say the opposite of what you're saying. Bill Cash and David Heathcoat-Amory both pointed out how she had said two things.

First: the debate was over. And second: the debate wasn't over. The EU Commission is wanting to use a device called a passerelle to ignore normal voting procedures in order to "harmonise" the criminal justice system all over Europe. As far as I can gather - and it isn't far - they have stalled in this endeavour. The order paper said "the time wasn't right" to proceed with this. However, as they pointed out that's very different from "ils ne passerellent pas", if it can be put like that.

According to Heathcoat-Amory, the European Court of Justice has made the passerelle redundant; a recent decision allows criminal justice measures to be imposed by majority voting "in advance of what is on the order paper".

But hooray for the European Scrutiny Committee for getting the thing on to the floor of the House. And for William Cash and David Heathcoat-Amory - who ought to get the Backbencher of the Year award turn and turn about.

NB: In building an opposition coalition, likeability is important. It's a seam in which Edward Garnier may have some potential left to mine. His brand of mordant humour needs more affability. I remember the Lord Chancellor calling me "a snivelling wretch" once, in a sort of judicial way that wasn't directly offensive. I'm not sure I'd feel so warmed by Garnier QC's amiable abuse.

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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