By Matthew Barrett
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Given the glut of stories about tanker-driver-gate, I thought I'd focus on the Sunday Telegraph's important preview of a report to be issued by the Commons' European Scrutiny Committee.
The key part of the report will condemn David Cameron for using his veto late last year for the wrong reasons, and for failing to set out his future plans on Europe:
"The Government has made clear that it has reservations about the legality of what has been done, but the question of what it intends to do remains unsatisfactorily unresolved. Politically and legally, it is profoundly unwise to suggest taking action, and then not to explain how it intends to carry it through, or what concessions anew are being sought and achieved. We therefore recommend that government clearly states as soon as possible what action it now intends to take on the treaty”.
The Committee takes issue with the Prime Minister's objections to the treaty. He objected to it because of its possible tax consequences for the City, but the Committee says he could and should have objected to it on legal grounds. The report will says: "The conduct of this treaty provides further and ever more disturbing evidence of the European Union dangerously ignoring its own precepts for political ends".
The report comes at an inconvenient time for the Prime Minister, given the wall-to-wall negative press coverage during the last week. There are some more troubling European issues on the horizon, though.
- The Prime Minister, even if he exercises (or threatens to) his veto, will not be able to recapture the public approval he received last year, mostly because the treaty negotiations in Brussels are still centred on bailouts and taxation. Were a different treaty on a different topic to be vetoed, David Cameron might get further support, but that opportunity has not presented itself.
- The Government has given its tacit support to the Eurozone enforcing its policies on fellow members using non-Eurozone or EU institutions. The Government initially signalled its intention to pursue legal challenges to this Eurozone over-reach, but they appear to have u-turned.
- Perhaps most importantly for the Prime Minister, there will be a vote during May or June in the House of Commons on giving the IMF more money.
- The previous vote of this kind, last summer, was passed by only 274 votes to 246, with 32 Tory rebels. Given there were 81 rebellions on the issue of a referendum, it's hard to see how there could be fewer than 81 rebels on a simple vote to give the IMF more money – how many constituents of the 81 would be happy with their MP voting for a referendum, yet also happy to see the IMF get billions from our Treasury? Clearly, an extra 50 votes against the motion would signal the first major Commons defeat for the Government.