Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Brown ashamed of Europe?

I'm starting to view Gordon Brown with some "Britoscepticism."

Throughout all the troubles of the past few months, the British media have been picking on Brown and labeling him a 'ditherer'. With each unfolding embarrassment, it seemed there was a plausible defense for Brown. When the elections fiasco happened, it could be argued that Brown hadn’t “intended to call an election and then chickened out,’ but had rather failed to squash unprovoked rumors of an election early enough. When the Northern Rock bank run and bailout happened, many, such as the ECB, believed that the government stepping in was probably the best option. When the government lost the identity records of thousands of people in the second largest data loss in history, one could say it would be foolish to blame Brown because he had nothing to do with it. And as the controversy over “dodgy donations” has unfolded, with new stories of Labour improperly accepting campaign money unfolding every day, it seemed that the only reason this was a story was because Labour had put those campaign finance laws into effect in the first place and these were the inevitable growing pains as the system figures itself out.

But this flip-flopping with the Lisbon treaty signing ceremony seems to be without a rational defense. First, the Labour party said that Gordon Brown would be unable to attend the signing of the EU reform treaty (so controversial in the UK) in Lisbon tomorrow because of previous commitments. Given that every other European head of state will be at this signing, there was immediate speculation that Brown wasn’t going because he didn’t need the bad domestic press coverage, with photos of him gleefully “signing away Britain” with a bunch of “swarthy foreigners” dominating the tabloids. This of course raised the ire of European leaders, who have really had it up to here with the UK’s reticent and aloof attitude toward the EU. So in an attempt to have it both ways, Labour announced Brown would attend the summit, but would arrive conveniently just after the actual signing ceremony, and he would instead sign it in private away from the cameras.

The reason given is that Brown has to attend his first appearance before the Commons Liaison Committee, a group of senior backbench MPs, at exactly the same time as the Treaty of Lisbon is being signed by the other 26 EU leaders. Labour’s line? "The Liaison Committee must come first.”

But the idea that this minor parliamentary committee would take precedence of a historic treaty signing is rather silly. Tory leader William Hague, who has been leading a campaign to put the treaty to a national referendum in Britain, lambasted Brown for this rather obvious timidity yesterday saying, "Some people say Gordon Brown’s problems are that he isn’t decisive and he lacks political courage. He couldn’t have done more to confirm that than this ridiculous fudge. He’s dithered over it for a week and now he decided that he’ll sign this Treaty but he doesn’t have the guts to do it in public. His excuses fool no one: he must stop treating people like fools.”

This refusal to sign the treaty in public is a tough blow to Labour’s case to keep this from going to a referendum because it again makes it look like the treaty is being agreed to surreptitiously. It’s also a remarkable snub toward the rest of Europe and is quite an insult after the EU gave Britain everything it asked for and more in terms of exceptions.

Pro-Europeans are likely pining for the good old days of Tony Blair, who seemed much more comfortable with matters of Europe. Brown, it seems, would just like to avoid the subject.


Torsten said...

I agree Brown does not seem comfortable with Europe or Europeans. But there is hope in his foreign secretary, David Milliband, who seems to be reasonably pro-Europe by early indications. Since he is the one who will be dealing the most with the issue, maybe all that matters is that Brown go along with the plan?

Anonymous said...

In the end he did allow cameras, though it seems little consolation given all the backsliding.