Something to Say with Keith Newbery: Not a veto... at best, an opt-out

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Six weeks ago this column, in its humble and unassuming way, suggested David Cameron’s claim to have exercised a veto over the latest European treaty was not only delusional but a complete fallacy.

The ‘v word’ had been bandied about on television, radio and in print and the Prime Minister returned to the Commons to receive the acclaim of his eurosceptic back-benchers.

As I pointed out at the time, Cameron did not prevent the other 26 countries (now 25) from carrying out their intention of providing tighter fiscal disciplines across Europe – he merely chose not to join them.

That is not a veto. It is, at best, an opt-out.

The extent of the shifting sands upon which Cameron’s strident claims were based can be seen by the fact that Merkel and Sarkozy are simply pressing ahead with their plans regardless.

Not only that, they are using the very institutions which would have been denied them had a real veto been in place.

It has left Cameron looking weak and ineffectual; an invertebrate leader relying on bluster and bravado.

The extent of his embarrassment became clear in the Commons in the awkward exchanges which followed his statement.

If Ed Miliband had taken a mop and bucket into the Commons he could not have made a more thorough job of wiping the floor with the honourable gentleman opposite.

Tory back-benchers, clearly infuriated at having fallen for their leader’s anti-Europe schtick before Christmas, began the parliamentary equivalent of jabbing him in the back with a sharp object.

Bill Cash, all arched eyebrows and lofty contempt, referred to this ‘non-EU treaty.’ The words fell, acrid and bitter, from his curled lip.

Labour inquisitors kept referring to ‘the treaty’ and Cameron’s attempts to disassociate himself from the word sounded ever more desperate.

He kept bobbing up and down, shaking his head ruefully and implying that the members opposite were clearly not clever enough to understand what was going on.

He then resorted to aiming gratuitous insults at Miliband – ‘weak, indecisive, blah, blah’ – in an increasingly frantic attempt at self-justification. If he expected outbursts of raucous support from behind, he was to be grievously disappointed.

The Tory ranks shifted uneasily. They didn’t like the way the political barometer had suddenly shifted from bright to stormy.

So Fred Goodwin (the name sounds reassuringly common without the ‘Sir’ in front of it) has been stripped of his knighthood.

But precisely what has been achieved by this exercise in political opportunism and symbolic, lynch-mob vindictiveness?

He wasn’t the only one to profit both socially and financially from the corporate madness which engulfed the banking system – but he’s the only one to have been publicly shamed.

Meanwhile, the convicted perjurer Jeffrey Archer, and expenses fiddlers Lords Taylor and Hanningfield, have retained their titles and their seats in the upper house despite serving prison sentences.

If righteous vengeance is to be the basis of a new national pastime, let’s make sure the rules are fair and apply to everyone.