Open Europe Blog

Hang on a sec

Our new Europe Minister Chris Bryant (the 12th Europe Minister in 12 years of Labour government, no less), has gone immediately on the attack, beginning his new job with an interview with the Sunday Telegraph in which he accused the Conservatives of lying about a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

He said:

“I think your readers will end up feeling deceived by Cameron over the question of a referendum. I would lay a very big wager that they will be very disappointed if there was a Cameron government, because they wouldn’t end up having a referendum.”

He said Cameron’s pledge that he would “not let matters rest there” was deliberately ambiguous, and covered the fact that he would not be able to renegotiate. He said: “Either he’s incompetent and he doesn’t know this, or he knows and he’s downright fibbing.”

Now we realise the whole question of Cameron, will he, won’t he, is very topical and sensitive at the moment (and here at OE we are waiting with bated breath – see here for roughly what we think they should do, which we are in the process of fleshing out further), but still, for a Labour Minister to try and grab the moral highground on this one is astounding.

It was Labour, you will remember, who promised a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty, indeed, in Gordon Brown’s own words, on any treaty “that is acceptable for Britain,” and went back on it, denying the people say, despite a poll of more than 130,000 people showing that 88% wanted a referendum. Only a complete hypocrite could now start accusing other people of leading the British people down the garden path on this one.

But that’s not all. It now looks like as well as being a hypocrite he might actually be a bit of a fibber himself.

Last night on Newsnight, Bryant pompously corrected presenter Kirsty Wark for suggesting that the issue of candidates for the post of EU President will come up for discussion at the EU summit at the end of this week, as the Guardian (and countless others) have suggested.

Bryant said:

“I hate to correct Newsnight – I know politicians aren’t allowed to do that, but it’s quite possible that there won’t be any discussion at this week’s meeting because the job doesn’t yet exist. We haven’t had the final ratification from the Czech Republic.”

But with Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker telling Le Monde newspaper today that “If the call went out to me. I would have no reason to refuse to listen,” it seems pretty hard to believe that this won’t feature strongly on the agenda.

In fact, the good old French Foreign Office have today confirmed in no uncertain terms that the topic will be discussed this week. According to a press release this afternoon, asked if the French government is in favour of Juncker becoming EU President, the reply came:

“These questions will be discussed at the European Council at the end of the week.”

Clear, simple and honest.

To be fair though, maybe it’s because, as the Evening Standard reported yesterday, as a lowly parliamentary under-secretary of state, the lowest ministerial ranking there is, Bryant isn’t going along to the European summit this week, and therefore isn’t au fait on what’s happening on his own patch.

Who knows.

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