No conspiracy: just the facts

Peter Mandelson (picture European Commission)

The political gossip columns are delighting in the suggestion in Adam Boulton’s new book that Peter Mandelson’s return to government last summer was all part of a conspiracy. (Read the Mole in the First Post, for example.)

The story is that Lord Mandelson came back in order to help Gordon Brown stay in office long enough to see the Lisbon treaty safely ratified. Once the treaty is in force, the post of president of the European Council is created, and Tony Blair steps forward into the role. Lord Mandelson’s motivation for this is, according to Adam Boulton, because he is “a lifelong member of the European movement”.

I’m afraid that Adam Boulton was scooped on this story by this blog back in June, but you don’t need to drag Tony Blair into it. What is at stake is not the interest of an individual but of the entire country.

For if the Conservatives get into power before the Lisbon treaty is ratified, they have said they will re-open the British ratification and put it to a referendum, campaigning for a No vote. A British rejection of the treaty will kill it, which is what they say they want.

But a British rejection of the treaty in a referendum would kill much more than the treaty alone. What of Britain’s relationship with the EU as a whole?

Think of all the rhetoric that might unfold during the referendum campaign. What would all the people say who want Britain to leave the EU altogether? They are an increasing vocal force in British politics, let’s not forget. All kinds of things might unfold from a referendum and it would be hard to stitch together any kind of productive partnership if the anti-Europeans are given a chance to wreck it. Preventing the risk of this disastrous outcome is a valuable enterprise – Peter Mandelson should be praised for this, not condemned.

If there is a conspiracy, Adam Boulton is looking in the wrong place. For why are the Tories calling for a referendum at all? Why don’t they simply declare that they will use their Commons majority to reverse the country’s policy on Lisbon?

It is not as if they believe in referendums on principle, for where is their support for a referendum on electoral reform or on Scottish independence or on the future of the monarchy? They are not advocating a referendum on Europe out of an enthusiasm for direct democracy.

No, the thought grows that they actually like the idea of upsetting Britain’s relationship with Europe, of throwing everything into doubt, but don’t actually want to say so. A referendum campaign would have the strategic function of levering Britain and Europe apart, but dressed up as a debate about Lisbon. If there is actually a European conspiracy afoot, it’s this.

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