Douglas Carswell seeks an inquiry into whether George Osborne lied to the Commons
By Jonathan Isaby
I am only just catching up with a story which ran in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday but for some reason never seems to have been published on their website and was only picked up, it appears, by Gary Gibbon of Channel Four News on his blog.
For some time now, Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton, has been raising questions (as we noted here in February for instance) about the deal agreed by European finance ministers in May last year on the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), making all EU nations liable to contribute to potential euro bailouts.
It was the weekend after the general election that the meeting took place and Alistair Darling was there to represent the UK as Chancellor amidst the ongoing coalition negotiations, although he had had a conversation about what was happening with George Osborne, who was of course then still the shadow chancellor.
The controversy for Carswell surrounds what Osborne did or didn't agree with Darling.
The Clacton MP has seized on a Treasury document signed by Treasury Minister Justine Greening from July last year (highlighted by Paul Waugh on his blog at the end of last month) which suggests that there was a "cross-party consensus" over the EFSM.
Yet there has been a series of strenuous denials to the Commons that Osborne agreed with the decision made at the meeting in Brussels on May 9th.
"My predecessor as Chancellor, in the weekend between the general election and the creation of the new Government, agreed to the creation of the European stability facility. That involves a UK commitment which takes place on the basis of qualified majority voting; we do not have a veto. I made it clear to the previous Chancellor at the time that I did not support what he had done."
Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, told the European Scrutiny Committee the previous week on February 1st:
"There was consensus between the parties about the process, but not necessarily about the outcome. It was a matter for the previous Chancellor to decide — he was the man occupying the office at the time."
And David Cameron told the Commons on March 28th:
"I believe that we should not have any liability for bailing out the eurozone, but given the current emergency arrangements, established under article 122, we do have such a liability. That decision was taken by the previous Government, and it is a decision to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor specifically objected when it was taken by his predecessor after the election but before this Government took office. Frustratingly, we are stuck with it for the duration of the emergency mechanism."
Indeed, Alistair Darling had explained from the backbenches himself on December 15th last year:
"I spoke to the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable) and the Chancellor, because I felt it appropriate to do so. I thought that in all probability they would both be in office within a couple of days... I discussed with the Chancellor what we should do about the financial stability mechanism. He had his reservations and stated very clearly that he was against deploying it."
All of which brings us back to Carswell's latest move, as reported by Andrew Gilligan in Tuesday's Telegraph:
"A Conservative backbencher has called for George Osborne to be investigated for allegedly misleading Parliament over a potential £7billion euro bail-out. Douglas Carswell, the MP for Clacton, wrote to David Cameron asking for an investigation by Sir Philip Mawer, the independent adviser on the ministerial code of conduct."
His central suggestion is that when George Osborne spoke to the Commons in February he was contradicting the memo signed by Justine Greening, hence his demand for a probe into whether the Chancellor has misled the Commons.
"I do not see how both statements can be true," is what he wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister seeking the investigation.
However the Treasury still insist that the only cross-party consensus was over the process rather than the outcome of that May meeting of the finance ministers.
All of which makes this rather an unprecedented request from Carswell: a Conservative MP asking a Conservative Prime Minister to organise an inquiry into whether another Conservative Cabinet Minister misled the Commons.
I cannot think of an occasion when a Tory MP has ever before sought an inquiry like this into the conduct of a senior colleague from the same side of the Commons and imagine a number of Carswell's colleagues will feel that he has overstepped the mark on this one.
There is also a certain irony that this celebrated supporters of Direct Democracy is resorting to try and seek the judgment of an appointed quangocrat like Sir Philip Mawer over the conduct of an elected politician...
> Monday morning, 18th April: Douglas Carswell explains why he is pursuing this issue