Magazine article The Spectator

The Final Battle of the Blair - Brown War Will Be Fought in Brussels

Magazine article The Spectator

The Final Battle of the Blair - Brown War Will Be Fought in Brussels

Article excerpt

For what must surely be the last time, war has broken out between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The surreal calm of the handover period has been fractured by a return to the bitterness, acrimony and threats that have been the dominant feature of government in the past decade. The Prime Minister has been told, rather than asked, to come back from next week's European Union summit having agreed a treaty which the Chancellor can plausibly sell to the British public without being forced into calling a referendum.

Almost all of the main EU players have now agreed a plan which resurrects the main points of the constitutional treaty voted down by the French and Dutch referendums two years ago. They want to settle it all in broad outline next week -- at Mr Blair's last EU council of ministers in Brussels -- then sign the new deal off perhaps as early as October.

It is a careful stitch-up, almost two years in the making.

Would Mr Brown really pull the plug on all this as his debut on the European stage? Mr Blair thinks not. He has his own wish list ahead of the summit, concerned with wording, opt-outs and the finessing of legal language. As ever, he would be happy with half of his objectives. But Mr Brown is demanding he returns having made no concessions at all. 'It's a nightmare, ' says one of the remaining No. 10 staffers. 'It's like the TB-GBs all over again.' Mr Brown's anger is driven by anticipation of a potentially dire dilemma. His pitch as incoming Prime Minister is that he will be more transparent, open and honest than the shifty, grinning con-artist about to depart.

There will be no more diktats cobbled together on the sofa, we are told, no more deals pieced together by backroom advisers.

He promises to devolve power to the citizen and act as a tribune of the people, 'a voice for communities far beyond Westminster'.

Yet it is possible, as things stand, that one of Mr Brown's first tasks as Prime Minister would be to push through Parliament a crucial EU treaty without consulting the electorate in a referendum: a spectacle that would be the very antithesis of what Mr Brown purports to believe in.

For the Conservatives, all this offers scope for the most tremendous political mischief, should David Cameron decide to make it an issue. I am told he is keen to do so, welcoming the chance to unite his party after the grammar schools fiasco. Officially, he says he will only call for a referendum if British powers are to be transferred to Brussels. But it is already fairly clear that this condition will be met.

Take, for example, the plans to end the rotating presidency of the EU and install a permanent European Commission president with 3,500 civil servants at his or her disposal.

There are also proposals, advanced by France, to have the president directly elected.

The holder of the new office would turn up at the White House as the president of Europe, negotiating foreign and trade policy. The creation of such a post, first proposed in the old constitution, would in itself mark a transformative moment in the history of Europe's power grab.

Next, there would be an EU Foreign Minister whose eye would be on organisations like the United Nations. Mr Brown may argue that this would not diminish the stature of Britain's Foreign Secretary on the world stage. But the wonderfully indiscreet Denis MacShane argued differently two years ago when he was Europe Minister. 'The voice of the future EU Minister for Foreign Affairs will be louder than that of the ministers of each nation, ' he told Le Figaro.

There may be a fudge of nomenclature: an EU 'International Spokesman' rather than a foreign minister. But this would matter little in practice as Romano Prodi, the Prime Minister of Italy, has conceded. 'As long as we have more or less a European Prime Minister and a European Foreign Minister, then we can give them any title, ' he says. The end result is that, should this treaty be passed, the EU would finally be able to flex its muscles on the world stage as a distinct constitutional entity. …

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