The Sketch: Treaty that lays down the law with a gentle tidy-up

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The Independent Online

There's not much I can tell you about the Lisbon debate on human rights. It's all in the fine print. And that's so fine it makes your eyes swim and your brain go wrong. The meanings are so elusive you can treat it as a Rorschach test, to create any picture you like. It makes a Derrida of any mortal Englishman.

The Government tell us the Treaty's charter on human rights is a great thing but they also say there are no new rights in it and anyway it's not applicable to Britain. So what's so great about it? It's a tidying-up exercise. Ah, one of them. The Tories according to Jack Straw are trying to paint "some dismal picture of Napoleonic resurgence". I don't think they are. I am, but they're not. It's very important to my universal theory of politics that within the next 50 years the peace-making, law-giving, European Union causes the next world war. Younger readers may not remember the reason Napoleon marched on Moscow: Russia left his Continental System. The farcical repeat can't be far away.

There was a promising moment when David Winnick insulted the honour of Poland and Daniel Kaz, with the 50-syllable name devoid of a single pronounceable vowel, leapt to his feet to defend his mother country. Ah yes, freedom-loving, gay-friendly Poland. Like Hungary. The countries for whom the phrase "political correctness gone mad" was originally coined.

But back to the future. Among the binding protocols, the horizontal articles, the pillars and passerelles, there must be something in the Treaty allowing them to do whatever the hell they want. There always is but we can't quite see what it is. Don't think the people who know very much more than we do know everything.

Which court takes precedence in human rights cases? Strasbourg or the European Court of Justice? Or are they the same thing? Bill Cash read out a chunk of Treaty saying one thing; Patricia Hewitt improvised an opposite chunk. David Lidington said no one knew because the accession text hadn't been produced. I agreed with everything.

There wasn't the opportunity to intervene on the minister indefinitely and really press him because we weren't in committee. Cunning of them, you must agree.

Malcolm Rifkind opened a chink and let a little visible darkness into the debate. The European Court was going to be interpreting the charter, making law, and our opt-out from this was vulnerable. It's true they operate on us by degrees. Step by step. Gently does it. Grandmother's looking now, but she'll turn round in a second and then what a rush there'll be.