My readers — and those of Andrew Stuttaford — on the Corner must sometimes wonder if we aren’t somewhat over-exercised on the topic of Britain and the European Union. Euro-enthusiasts in Britain and continental Europe certainly take that view about Euroskeptics. Their favorite adjective for us is “swivel-eyed.” I should have thought a long unblinking gaze was a better indication of something batty in the belfry, but let’s not quibble. Europhiliacs are at least as monomaniacal on the same topic. What distinguishes the skeptics from the philiacs is that we have something deep and real to worry about which, alas, usually requires long and not very entertaining explanations to be understood by outsiders.
All the more reason to welcome a blog that explains these things readably and expertly while also summing them up with marvelous brevity. It’s a blog maintained by Dominic Cummings, until recently a Spad — special advisor to a government minister, in this case Education Secretary Michael Gove — but also a veteran of the Euro-wars as a former worker for Business for Britain. A recent posting is a very expert analysis of how the Euro debate is likely to play out.
But the essential point that will enable you, gentle reader, to understand Andrew’s and my concerns is the following paragraph based on Cummings’s experience at the heart of government:
One of the things that is most striking is how much of a Cabinet Minister’s box is filled with EU papers. Here the process is simpler than for Clegg’s appalling Home Affairs Committee, where at least there can be disagreements about policy. In order to continue the pretence that Cabinet Government exists, all these EU papers are circulated in the red boxes. Nominally, these are ‘for approval’. They have a little form attached for the Secretary of State to tick. However, because they are EU papers, this ‘approval’ process is pure Potemkin village. If a Cabinet Minister replies saying — ‘I do not approve, this EU rule is stupid and will cost a fortune’ — then someone from the Cabinet Office calls their Private Office and says, ‘Did your Minister get pissed last night, he appears to have withheld approval on this EU regulation.’ If the Private Office replies saying ‘No, the minister actually thinks this is barmy and he is withholding consent’, then Llewellyn calls them to say ‘ahem, old boy, the PM would prefer it if you lie doggo on this one’. In the very rare cases where a Minister is so infuriated that he ignores Llewellyn, then Heywood calls to explain to them that they have no choice but to approve, so please tick your box and send in your form, pronto. Game over.
It’s the sort of thing you read in history books about how a capital city operated just before the regime collapsed.
That last sentence was written by Cummings. But it could have been written by Andrew or me. And you should understand that it’s optimistic.