PM must act on rebels’ yell over Europe cash

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
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What on earth is the point of having a vote in the House of Commons which is not binding on those it affects? You might well ask.

If Parliament is truly sovereign then its decisions should have the concrete effect they are intended to have.

Last week’s calamitous defeat of the Government on the EU budget contributions may have embarrassed the Prime Minister, possibly weakened his hand when he goes to negotiate in Brussels and it may well have destabilised the coalition as well. But if he wants (although it would probably be unwise to do so), David Cameron could ignore this defeat brought about by 53 “rebel” Tories plus the Labour opposition.

The bleak truth is, for Cameron, that this vote expresses the wishes of probably a huge majority of British voters. Why should the British taxpayer be told to tighten his belt when, for instance, the EU is contributing millions to a “botanical wonderland” in France, a Biblical-themed garden in Poland, and a music festival in the Caribbean?

Kenneth Clarke, the Europhile minister without portfolio, says it would be “absolutely ludicrous” for the Prime Minister to veto any deal that might be reached.

But why? Let’s get back to basics: Britain joined the Common Market, as it then was, as a partner in a trading organisation.

It has now developed political aspirations and every change that has been made in its constitution takes it closer to becoming a United States of Europe. That was never envisaged. For instance, the EU now has its own “Foreign Office” and also a virtually common currency which Britain, thankfully, did not join.

Cameron would be well advised to listen to his backbenchers and, more importantly, to the British electorate.

If he does not do something bold pretty soon, then more and more Tory support will drain away. And that could cost him the next election.

There is, unsurprisingly, renewed pressure on the police to re-examine the case of Denis MacShane, who has resigned as an MP after being caught fiddling his expenses. It is quite understandable that the handful who were punished over their expenses are feeling a sense of injustice that MacShane may escape criminal charges. There are many people, outside Parliament, too, who believe that many of those MPs caught cheating on their expenses a couple of years ago should have had their collars felt.

You would find it difficult to argue against the feeling that there is one rule for Members of Parliament and another for the rest of us.

It seems that because of parliamentary privilege, certain documents in the MacShane case could not be presented to a court of law. That seems a perverse use of privilege, which gives politicians a sense, at least in a partial way, of being above the law.