It was always going to happen, but the pro-European Union, political establishment’s games have now officially begun, kicking off with Britain’s most senior civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood, declaring that David Cameron’s government should embark upon an unprecedented stitch up of the upcoming EU referendum vote.
Sir Jeremy, who took over from GOD – no really, his predecessor was Sir Gus O’Donnell – is the Head of the Civil Service for Her Majesty’s government. Typically, he is supposed to remain neutral on political affairs, and simply implement the wishes of the government of the day.
Cameron’s government has already fallen at the first hurdle, first prevaricating, then tossing out tradition by not including purdah rules – election period regulations which preclude government involvement in the last 28 days before a vote – in the European Referendum Bill before Parliament.
This means that 24 hours, or even one hour before Britons go to the polls in the referendum, the government would be able to make pronouncements and offer inducements to the public in order to sway their vote.
Sir Jeremy, speaking before the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee said, according to the Telegraph: “The main concern the Civil Service would have is in relation to the normal activity in Brussels. Maybe not all aspects of that normal activity, but in a typical month you have 10 or 11 ministerial councils in Brussels.
“Some of those will be informal and private, others will be formal ministerial councils in which legislation is negotiated. British ministers and sometimes British civil servants… will be sitting in those councils trying to secure the best outcome for Britain.
“In the last 28 days of the referendum campaign, let’s assume there are 10, 11, 12 of those councils. We need to make sure, in the normal course of business, that our ministers use whichever are the most potent arguments they can use to win points for Britain in those negotiations, in those minute statements and so on.
“We would be concerned, certainly our legal advice is very worrying on this aspect, that unless ministers tread very carefully they may well end up using arguments in those internal EU discussions which could be construed by anyone who is litigious as bearing on those questions of the referendum.”
Heaven forbid that Britain’s bureaucrats feel slightly put out for 28 days while the nation decides over something so deeply important. Sir Jeremy claimed that Britain’s representatives may feel “hobbled” by the idea that they wouldn’t get to represent their views clearly without provoking some sort of legal challenge back home.
Well maybe that’s true, though given the quality of reporting from the EU into the United Kingdom, it is unlikely we the general public would find out much anyway (and even if we do, it’ll only be the pro-EU arguments).
And even if it is true, who’s to say that Britain sitting as an observer, rather than an active participant for the final 28 days of the campaign is necessarily a bad thing?
The legislative process is at an all time low in Brussels, currently, and thank goodness for that too.
Instead of making the case on behalf of his bureaucrats, Sir Jeremy should shut up and allow the British public to decide, as fairly as the establishment will allow them to, on whether or not they wish to remain a part of a European super state. If they do, then Sir Jez and his mates can have all the fun they want for the next 40 years. In the mean time… shush.