Caroline Flint, the Minister for Europe, made a stunning admission in the House of Commons yesterday - that she has not read the Lisbon Treaty. During a European Committee session, the following exchange (not yet online) took place between the Minister and Mark Francois, her shadow:
"Mr Francois: Given that the treaty is integral to the documents we are debating this afternoon, I am a little surprised at the continuing vagueness of the Minister's answer. This is a really simple question: has the Minister read the elements of the Lisbon treaty that relate to defence?
Caroline Flint: I have read some of it but not all of it.
Mr Francois: What!
Caroline Flint: I have been briefed on some of it.
Mr Francois: That is an extraordinary answer. The Minister for Europe has not read all of the Lisbon treaty. That is an absolutely extraordinary revelation. It is a bit like the Irish Prime Minister saying that he had not read it before the referendum. That is an incredible answer. If she is Minister for Europe, why has she not read the treaty?"
The Lisbon Treaty provides for: a new EU president; an EU foreign minister and EU diplomatic service; the European Court of Justice having jurisdiction over key elements of criminal legislation (including arrests and sentencing); more powers for Europol; the EU setting uniform standards for asylum seekers; legally binding status for the Charter of Fundamental Rights; the abolition of national vetoes and new areas where no veto will apply; and a ratchet clause allowing the EU to abolish any non-defence national veto without a new Treaty.
Caroline Flint may not have read the Treaty, but she has offered opinion on it readily:
"I believe that the Lisbon treaty is good for the United Kingdom and good for Europe."
"The Lisbon treaty provides a simpler, more streamlined EU."
(Both House of Commons, 13 October 2008.)
When Ken Clarke admitted he hadn't read the Maastricht Treaty he got into a spot of bother. I wonder how this story will run.
Update: The debate took place in European Committee B. Immediately following the exchange above, the (Labour) Chairman Eric Illsley intervened:
"The Chairman: Order. The Lisbon treaty is not entirely relevant to the documents under debate.
Mr. Francois: With respect, it is mentioned a number of times in the documents.
The Chairman: It is related, but it is not the document under debate this afternoon. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind.
Caroline Flint: The Lisbon treaty’s mutual assistance clause, article (1)49, is in accordance with article 51 of the UN charter, which states that countries have
“the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs”,
and as such—
Mr. Francois: You are supposed to be Minister for Europe; how can you not have read the treaty?
The Chairman: Order."
Lord Malloch-Brown, a Foreign Office Minister, takes a rather different attitude to democracy to Daniel Hannan.
On Tuesday the House of Lords debated the Lisbon Treaty. Independent peer Lord Stoddart of Swindon put a question to the minister, and received a breathtaking reponse:
"Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why those who prate on about democracy and the will of the people will never accept no as an answer when it suits them? Do the Government understand that the French and the Dutch rejected the constitution and then the Irish rejected the Lisbon treaty? Is that not “No” enough for the Government, or are they prepared to accept the will of the people?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the constitution that was rejected by the Dutch and the French led to very big changes, which led to a treaty that was no longer a constitution. With 24 countries having approved the treaty, I am not sure whether the voters of Ireland should have a right of veto over the aspirations of all the other people of Europe. I am not sure whether that is or is not democracy."
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "Labour denied the British people any say over the renamed EU Constitution and now they claim the Irish don't matter either."
Lord Malloch-Brown is also on record as wishing and believing that the European Commission will one day represent the EU on the UN Security Council.
In light of the news that the Irish will be asked to vote again to approve the Lisbon Treaty, the leader of Conservative MEPs, Timothy Kirkhope, has put out a statement:
"There are no real substantive changes between the treaty the Irish rejected before, and only a few cosmetic changes from the European Constitution, which the French and Dutch people also did not want.
Irish, French and Dutch voters must not be deceived by this constant tinkering around the edges of the European Constitution. At what point will Europe's leaders realise the meaning of the word 'no'?
Although making the Irish people vote again is undemocratic, at least they have had an opportunity to voice their concerns, some of which the Irish government has sought to address. The British people have been totally voiceless over this treaty, and the concessions made to the Irish make the case for a referendum in the UK all the more compelling.
Gordon Brown hypocritically puts pressure on Ireland to hold a second vote, whilst denying the British people any say."
Voters throughout the European Union are being pushed beyond endurance by their political masters. This can't go on. The worm may turn.
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