In December, David Cameron said he would not sign the new EU Treaty – and was hailed as a hero, with highly favourable press coverage a bounce in opinion polls. Why didn't he sign? Remember, the new Treaty did not contain any provisions applying to the UK as such. There were no new powers or competencies passed to the EU from the UK under the Treaty – its applicability was to the Eurozone and potential Eurozone members. And the British government wanted the Eurozone to increase its coordination in this way, as part of saving the euro.
So why didn't he sign? He didn't sign because Britain had wanted some extra provisions in the Treaty, returning some modest powers over financial regulation to national Parliaments and regulatory authorities from the central EU, and he didn't get them. The point of not signing was simply that the EU had refused to agree to what we wanted, so we were making things awkward for them. By not signing, we were attempting to prevent them from using the institutions of the EU to enforce the new Treaty.
Other than our objecting to the new Treaty using the institutions of the EU, there was no content in our not signing whatever. The refusal to allow the institutions of the EU to enforce the new Treaty was not irrelevant to the "veto" or even "part of" or "implied by" the veto. The refusal to allow the institutions of the EU to use the new Treaty was the total content of the "veto". And the "veto" was not to protect the UK from anything new that might happen under the new Treaty. Not signing was simply a negotiating ploy to try to put pressure on our EU partners to agree to the very modest repatriation of powers we sought.
That is why recent comments of William Hague and David Cameron, saying that Britain will allow the institutions of the EU to be used by the new Treaty provided that they are not used in such a way as to damage Britain's interests are entirely beside the point. There was never any question of the new Treaty damaging Britain's interests, except in the sense of its being a missed opportunity for us to begin the process of renegotiation. The "veto" didn't protect us from anything. It simply sought to force our partners back to the table on renegotiation.
Allowing the institutions of the EU to be used to enforce the new Treaty without even a legal challenge is simply a reversal of the December "veto". Matters will now be precisely as if Cameron had signed. Unless some deal emerges shortly whereby our partners agree to repatriate the powers we sought in December, it is total capitulation. Since, if Cameron had signed, there would have had to be a referendum, how can one be avoided now? That is the question Conservative backbenchers need to ask themselves. The other parties that now need to consider their position are Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson. On Sunday, Iain Duncan Smith was reported in the Telegraph as follows:
"Pressed on the possible use of the European Commission and courts, funded by EU nations, in the push for deeper fiscal and political union among the 17 single currency members states, Mr Duncan Smith said the PM had vetoed "any such possibility". "The fact is the Prime Minister vetoed them using the institutions…I absolutely trust the Prime Minister on this, I know where he stands.""
Having so personalised the issue, IDS' position is now very difficult. William Hague stated this morning, in terms, that there would be no veto on the use of EU institutions to enforce the new Treaty. Either IDS' personal trust in the Prime Minister, or his judgement as to where the Prime Minister stands on the EU, or William Hague's authority to speak on the Prime Minister's behalf on this matter, must be awry. One assumes it must be IDS that has the problem here.
Perhaps he won't resign. After all, who can or cannot use certain institutions may seem a bit too technical for public comprehension. But then, Maastricht seemed technical at the time, and yet many Conservatives summoned the will to oppose their leadership on that…