Gordon brown's arrival in Lisbon.jpg

Gordon brown’s arrival in Lisbon


[email protected]

BRITISH PRIME Minister Gordon Brown caused raised eyebrows last  Thursday on the day that 27 European leaders signed the Treaty of Lisbon.

The Prime Minister, apologising profusely for being late, jetted into Lisbon while the other EU heads of state were finishing off their desserts at a banquet thrown in the Coach Museum, courtesy of President Cavaco Silva.

Depending on one’s point of view, there are various ways of interpreting the British premier’s lateness.

Gordon Brown’s office argued that he had already pencilled in an appointment with a House of Commons Committee that had been decided in November and warned Portuguese

Gordon Brown signing the most important document in European history since Maastricht. Photo: SUPPLIED
Gordon Brown signing the most important document in European history since Maastricht. Photo: SUPPLIED

Prime Minister José Sócrates of this at the time.

But the appointment excuse simply did not wash. The Chairman of the House of Commons Committee had apparently told Gordon Brown he could delay the meeting for a week.

Then there is the argument that the Treaty signing and the meeting fell on the same day. Yet José Sócrates had told Gordon Brown that the day for the signing of the Treaty would be December 13 as far back as October, which means Gordon Brown needs to review his diary appointments secretary.

Therefore, the conclusions are that either Gordon Brown is trying to please everybody, both home audience and the European Union, but ends up pleasing no one, or is demonstrating a remarkable lack of indecision.

Worse still, turning up late to the signing ceremony of the most important document in European history since Maastricht can only be interpreted by the rest of Europe as evidence of Britain’s lukewarm reception to the European project.

Clear signals

The Prime Minister’s Office would argue that it isn’t strictly legally necessary to send the Head of State or Prime Minister to rubber stamp an official European Union document, even if it is the Treaty of Lisbon. Come to think of it, he would have gained more Brownie points for Britain by sending the Queen, who is, after all, Head of State.

In the end, that task was performed by boyish British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and a one-time junior minister Lynda Chalker was sent to sign the Single European Act of 1986, arguably a more important document with wider repercussions.  

However, there are signs that the United Kingdom has gone as far as it is prepared to go down the EU road towards Federal Integration and could be sending the clearest signals yet that it is mentally opposed to further political union.

Of course, other European Union countries have political parties that play to the gallery of public opinion.

These ‘Eurosceptics’ exist in France (left wing parties want more protectionism and less flexi-security), Austria doesn’t want Turkey in the EU, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other Eastern European countries believe environmental regulations are overdone.

The problem is that reading last week’s screaming headlines from the Daily Mail and Express, News of the World and Daily Mirror, one gets the feeling that the media and large parts of the establishment don’t like the European Union period.

Gossip has it too, that Gordon Brown, unlike Tony Blair, is about as much in favour of closer EU integration as Margaret Thatcher.

The question now is, where does the United Kingdom go from here? Does she eventually accept the Euro and give up some of her long-cherished sovereignties or pull back and start intensifying links with Commonwealth and English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada, the United States, South Africa and New Zealand?

One thing is for sure – sitting on the fence and pretending, as Gordon Brown did in Lisbon on Thursday at the Prime Minister’s official residence of São Bento, that the United Kingdom is committed as ever to the European Union project is not really fair or quite true.

Do you have a view on this story? Email: [email protected]