OPINION: Will Blair betray Brown at the EU court?

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been battling over Britain's place in Europe for as long as I can remember.

Brown has usually won such battles, but this week the media have been claiming that he faces ‘real damage’ as Blair goes to Brussels to negotiate Britain’s future without his chancellor.

The spin we have been receiving from both camps is that the two have been working closely
together, as ever, on the issue.

But we know this isn’t true. Brown does not trust Blair more than he ever did, which is why he got Geoff ‘Buff’ Hoon to tell the media that ‘the next Prime Minister hasn’t ruled out a referendum’ a few days after Number 10 specifically had.

Blair is publicly insisting he will stand firm and will not agree to any new EU treaty that gives Europe more say over the UK’s tax and judicial systems. But the media are questioning whether Blair will hold firm and commit Brown to a referendum.

There will not be a referendum, of course, but Brown doesn’t want to be seen to be too rigid on this contentious issue.

Indeed those PRWeek readers who don’t read The Sun, where the commentators slaver at the mouth every time Europe is mentioned, may be wondering what all the fuss is about.

Pro-Europeans like Brown are not helped by the Euro zealots in Brussels either. I will never forget the day I sat at one of these summits when the issue of abolition of duty free came up.

Britain had fought against this, but we were astonished when Jacques Chirac said, ‘Why do we want to abolish it when it’s so popular?’ By then it was too late, but it showed just how powerful the unelected Eurocrats really are.

Through all this Brown has tried to steer a sensible course, though it will take all the skills of his media team to present anything other than a sell out.

The only cheer is the relative neutrality of the news coverage and the inability of the Tories to say anything sensible about Europe either.

David Cameron, remember, made his one and only concession to the hard right of his party by promising to leave the centre grouping in the European Parliament. In fact, the Conservative Party is more divided on Europe than Labour, and Brown knows this.

One Westminster hack told me that he has decided to give this particular summit a miss since ‘it could go on for days’. This suggests a gigantic fudge, and Brown will come out as ‘damaged’ as he was when the SNP won the Scottish election. In other words: hardly at all.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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