Whatever else might make it into Blair’s legacy, his regard for the democratic process is not what one might be inclined to think of as one of his strengths.
And with friends like José Manuel Barroso, you can possibly see why.
In his role as President of the European Commission, he’s reported to have made a speech in which he said he “hoped the Prime Minister ‘will have the courage’ to scrap more national vetoes and to sign up to an EU bill of rights despite public hostility.”
The key phrase there, if you care about the small matter of what the electorate would like you, as their representative, to do, is despite public hostility. “You know about the UK, and the respect I have for your country,” says Mr Barroso. “We have to stand up in front of our national public opinions, not give up to some of the populisms we have in our member states!”
What’s called there the Bill of Rights has also been known in the past as the Constitutional Treaty, all part of a sneaky plan from Brussels, in which the governments of individual member states would all ratify it without needing to hold any referendums. The outcome would have been to give legal personality to the EU, appoint a single Europe-wide president, army, and foreign minister, and so transfer all remaining sovereignty from the member states to this new legal and political entity.
Only two countries held a referendum on signing up to this treaty, and the answer in both places was No. That was nee in the Netherlands and non in France. After the Poles (I think, if I remember right) put their foot down, the last hope for that one was torpedoed, and at the time people said it was in fact dead.
Not that it stopped people trying to revive it. It’s currently being presented as a much smaller document, a simplified, mini treaty, and with much ado about calling it an “amending” treaty, rather than a constitutional treaty (nobody cares about holding referendums on amending treaties, so if it’s going by this label, and if it is so teensy weensy small and inoffensive in this incarnation, there’s really no need for the poor public to have to worry their heads about it. They wouldn’t understand it anyway, so the referendum would just have to be held again and again until they finally understand and vote yes. Best to skip all that and just get parliament to ratify it straight off.)
A nice quote from William Hague to round off with:
“Tony Blair shouldn’t be standing up to British public opinion; he should be standing up for it: the Prime Minister’s job is to stand up for Britain in Europe, not stand up for Europe in Britain.”