The Sketch: The constitution that is not a constitution

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The Independent Online

"It's not a constitution," President Barroso told the Downing Street press conference. "I am a constitutional lawyer and believe me, this is not a constitution."

A constitutional lawyer, eh? They confiscate our rotten cabbages at the door of No 10, and that was lucky for old smoothy-chops. He's over here to promote what they call the Reform Treaty, or the Amending Treaty (previously the Constitutional Treaty).

But there's no question about it. It's a constitution. What's not a constitution about it? He said there were opt-outs. Opt-outs? Obviously.

I'm not a constitutional lawyer, but all that means is we've got an EU constitution containing opt-outs. This new document is the legal basis of the EU. It can't be anything other than a constitution.

But people don't like the idea of a constitution, so in a piece of linguistic weasling it's called something else.

Earlier this week, David Miliband wriggled through an EU sentence for John Stanley at the Foreign Affairs Committee. The new constitution says that national parliaments "shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union". A constitutional demand, the Foreign Secretary agreed. But wholly in our favour. What that phrase means – different things in different languages, he added – is, ah, we in Britain can choose how to exercise our yellow card/red card options to give the British Parliament greater powers. You know, to reject things the EU wants us to do. As Harold Wilson said in another context: "This will not affect the pound in your pocket."

The European Scrutiny Committee has identified serious weaknesses in the Government's position on this treaty. The committee, is, as it were, dealing with the treaty's language, not the linguistics, the spinnables.

They lay out precisely how the red lines will be chewed up over time, bite by bite in the European Court of Justice. Michael Connarty, the committee chairman, has discerned how the new legal text has a five-year threat to Britain and can end up with our being opted-out of all EU justice arrangements unless we opt in.

No one in Downing Street has asked the committee's chairman for a briefing, or advice or even a gloss on its report. They should. At least they'd weasel with more authority.

None of this is good for the PM. The big Bruin suffers at his stake, even when the dogs have stopped snapping. He looked ghastly yesterday.

Pale, tired, swollen below the eyes. The voice is still good. But this work rate after the summer's three non-crises must take a lot of getting used to. Now he's got 50 duties before Monday, every word is on the record, and some of them (no one exactly knows which) have 100-year consequences.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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