Sunday, 15 June 2008

Clegg faces his biggest test...

Nick Clegg has had a pretty good week. His decision not to fight the Haltemprice & Howden by-election looked sound at the time and still looks good. David Davis is fighting his by-election on an issue Liberal Democrats can be comfortable supporting. My view on Davis and his actions hasn't changed much but it's clear he has touched a chord of public and popular support.

Nick's response to the Irish referendum result on the Lisbon Treaty has also drawn plaudits from many quarters. Of course, as Liberal DEMOCRATS, if we don't respect democracy, what do we stand for ? I was a little concerned by Nick's somewhat long-winded and vague response to Andrew Marr on the direct question of whether the ratification process should continue in Britain in the light of the Irish rejection.

We (and that means specifically the Liberal Democrat peers) need to send an unequivocal message - Lisbon is dead. It cannot and must not be revived by obfuscation or mere redrafting. The ONLY country (regrettably) to allow its electorate to vote on the Treaty has rejected it. Indeed, the remarkable thing is that Ireland, which has done so well out of EU membership, has rejected Lisbon.

Now, some Euro-sceptics might think the Irish rejection was a sign of a strong anti-EU sentiment. That is wholly wrong - yes, some of those in the "No" camp would have been anti-EU but most weren't. There were genuine and unaddressed concerns about their country's independence, taxation policy, neutrality and the very complexity of the Treaty document itself. These concerns were well marshalled by the "No" campaign which lacked the support of any of the major Irish political parties, primarily Fianna Fael.

For me, the Irish result sends a clear message to the EU - take this Treaty back, reflect, reconsider and bring back something coherent and intelligible to, so to speak, the man on the Ballinrobe omnibus. I believe the period of reflection needs to be long - years rather than days or months.

Some believe the election of a Conservative Government in Britain in June 2010 will kill all this stone dead - I'm less convinced. IF David Cameron is a pragmatic and sensible politician, he will recognise the benefits of a future Treaty if it is well written and sensible. I also think Britain and the EU can ill-afford a repeat of the stagnation of the Major years. Cameron will need to engage with other European leaders and argue his case.

Nick Clegg needs to persuade the Liberal Democrat peers that Lisbon is a dead duck. That doesn't mean the idea of closer integration is dead but it does need to be better explained within the context of a major and thorough reform of EU institutions predicated on the creation of a responsive, efficient and proactive EU working with nation states to improve the lot of Europe.

No one should object to that - Nick Clegg cannot afford to send a message that we want to be part of the current EU fudge and waffle. That starts this week with the peers recognising the need to end ratification in the UK and begin the process of change and renewal that the EU so desperately needs.

No comments: