Richard North, 08/12/2004  

Despite being flagged up well in advance as a keynote speech, Jack Straw's little offering on the EU constitution yesterday seems to have gone down like a lead balloon with the media.

The only newspaper which appears to have given the speech any coverage in the Europhile Guardian and then only in a perfunctory manner, recording "Straw's warning on EU referendum no".

Having read the speech and tried to dissect it, I can see why editors have seen fit to spike it – quite frankly, it was boring to the point of tedium, offering very little of substance and nothing really new. In the final analysis, if that is all Straw can offer, then he has a real problem on his hands.

Nevertheless, the Guardian did try to inject some life into the story, counter-pointing with a "warning" from industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, who is insisting that "Britain would lose its ability to create a pro-market EU economy if it rejected the treaty."

This somewhat tendentious statement presumes, of course, that the EU – or, more specifically, the EU member states – are at all interested in developing a pro-market economy, but it sits oddly with the Straw speech who effectively claims that our membership has already enabled us to develop a pro-market economy.

"History shows that we have shaped Europe in our interests when Britain has been strong, engaged and influential," says Straw. You can see the contradiction. Hewitt makes claims of what the constitution will enable us to do, whereas Straw argues that this is what we have already been able to achieve.

Despite this, what we do learn is that Ms Hewitt has been in extensive discussions with the prime minister on how to win over British business to the EU treaty, but we are not told whether her wisdom was fed into the Straw speech.

We are simply left with the Guardian’s view of the speech which, to them, suggests that "any government yes campaign will focus as much on the consequences of a no vote as the benefits of the constitution itself." But, as Straw himself admits, this would bring us into unknown territory.

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