Richard North, 13/01/2014  

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The crop of EU-related effluvia in the legacy media this morning leaves one temporarily stunned, struggling to come to terms with a "debate" which is spiralling out of control, descending into lunacy.

Joke of the day, though, is Boris Johnson, who wants us to believe that he has read the entire transcript of last Friday's Lords debate.

"The last doubt", avers Mr Johnson, "was removed in the course of the proceedings. Speaker after speaker stood up from the Labour side to protest at the very concept of this embarrassingly direct democracy".

"One by one", he claims, "their Labour lordships reminded each other of the wise words of Clement Attlee, that referendums were the devices of despots and dictators – and why? Because there was always the risk, don't you know, that the poor benighted public would say or do the wrong thing".

One wonders of Mr Johnson whether he was reading the same transcript that we can read on the parliament site, or whether he plucked one from the alternative reality where he clearly spends most of his time.

Take, for instance, the real world Lord Davies of Stamford, a Labour peer who tells us:
Of course, no sane or sensible person would ever go to the public and ask them to decide on something and say, "It's important that the public have their say - but you can't do it for the next four years". Nobody knows what will happen in the intervening four years; in fact, there is quite a large probability that there will be a new treaty under negotiation - not concluded - by 2017.

It cannot possibly be concluded in practice before the French and German elections in that year, which have already been referred to. How absurd it would be if we had a legal obligation to hold a referendum before the end of 2017, but there was another treaty in gestation and we were part of that negotiation, so we would have to have another referendum on that in 2018 or 2019. That would be absolutely absurd.

From a practical point of view the whole idea is ridiculous and any sensible person would have been able to see that it was ridiculous. Indeed, I have no doubt that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary know that it is ridiculous, and that that is what they would have said a year and a half ago in public. However, they have decided on this slightly squalid party political ploy, which is why we have the Bill before us today.
Not once does the Lord Davis refer Clement Attlee. In fact, only two peers mention Attlee in the context of a referendum: Lord Roper and Baroness Quin, both very early on in the six-hour debate. In all, Attlee is mentioned thrice – all on the first page of the transcript.

One might thus accuse Mr Johnson of hyperbole, except that that doesn't even get close. His account of the debate is a travesty – a complete misrepresentation of the proceedings that, one can only assume, is calculated to deceive.

Take Lord Davies, for instance. The points made are eminently reasonable, and back up those of Lord Kerr and others. He tells us that there is quite a large probability that there will be a new treaty under negotiation - not concluded - by 2017. And in that case, it would be extremely difficult to hold an "in-out" referendum.

Davies, in fact, says, "from a practical point of view the whole idea [of a 2017 referendum] is ridiculous and any sensible person would have been able to see that it was ridiculous".

Necessarily, I would agree with that view, for the reasons already rehearsed. With at least two-and-a-half years from start to finish, there simply isn't time to complete any treaty negotiations and run a campaign, in order to have a poll in 2017. As Lord Kerr stated, it is "impossible".

The idiot Johnson, however, isn't in the business of conveying home truths. Instead, the snake-oil salesman is selling his own brand of impossibility. "I think", he writes, "the people will suck their teeth hard, squint into the future, and go for the kind of prospectus now being offered by the think tank Open Europe – stay in the single market, but axe much of the rest".

"If they can", he adds, "I think people will vote for staying in – on the right terms. But Britain won't be offered the right terms unless the people are given the chance to vote. Get the EU to stare down the barrel of a British referendum – or forget about any chance of reform".

The trouble is though, that the Open Europe prospectus isn't on offer, will never be on offer, and cannot be achieved. Mr Johnson is selling a lie, a very transparent lie, and he evidently thinks we are stupid enough to believe him.


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