Richard North, 01/11/2012  

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I watched the EU debate in Westminster, all of it. Mind you, one of the joys of having two screens on the computer is that you can have things like Parliament TV up on one screen while you get on with some real work on the other. There is nothing MPs can say that is sufficiently challenging to require complete attention.

What came over more that the words, though, was the mood music – a bunch of self important egos on parade, determined to show us how much they were "in touch" with their constituents. They were having to cut back; public "services" were being cut back, so "Europe" should do the same.

And thus they voted, 307 to 294 for an amendment to a "take notice" motion that is not binding on the prime minister when he goes to Brussels. All it does is tell him that the House of Commons, by a very narrow vote, wants him to give lots of our money to "Europe" but no more than the arbitrary figure that they have dreamed up.

The bizarre thing is that this is not binding on Cameron – he can ignore it if he wishes, or he can game the situation, and try to extract brownie points from it. Much of the legacy media is casting the vote as a "humiliation" for him – the BBC calling it a "very difficult, a very signifcant moment for the Government" - but it could just as easily be used as a foil for "call me Dave" to do his "man of the people" act.

As some MPs in the debate seemed to be aware, however, it is all smoke and mirrors. If Mr Cameron does go to Brussels and, eventually, use his veto on the multi-annual budget, there are procedural ways by which the "colleagues" can circumvent the blockage, as we pointed out in our earlier post. There will be no weeping and gnashing of teeth on the EU front - just a mild irritation.

The worst of it all though is that the MPs who sought to block a budget increase thought they had "dun good" when the vote came in, letting loose with cheering and catcalls in a distinctly unparliamentary exhibition. But for all their protestations about being "eurosceptic", we are still members of the European Union and paying a huge amount of money for the increasingly dubious privilege.

If Parliament really wanted to exercise its power, it could rally around one of several procedural devices which could force Mr Cameron to the table in Brussels, lodging our Article 50 papers, and if the MPs were really in touch, that is what they would be doing.

Given that the overwhelming public sentiment would be for Parliament to cut spending to the EU altogether, they simply showed that the have completely lost contact with the real world. Instead of doing the decent thing, they played at being eurosceptics at our expense, and then thought themselves such jolly good chaps and chapesses for so doing.

But, while they are quick to applaud themselves, there will be no applause from this quarter. You saw not the best of Parliament in this debate, as some averred, but weak men and women. They exhibited only their lack of resolve and their self-induced powerlessness. That was not a pretty sight.


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