Et tu, Brian!

Brian Cowen’s hasty switch from Blair to Bruton as the favoured Irish candidate for the presidency of the EU council is a wise move by the government leader most in need of maximum European goodwill. The unelected taoiseach would be as good as anybody else, given that the word from the Brussels summit is that they want a soft chairman from the now dominant centre right bloc and not a traffic stopper. After 10 years as PM which ended under a cloud, Blair had just too much history. Too much Iraq, too much faintheartedness over Schengen and the euro ( the latter thanks to G Brown). He would have barnstormed the EU and the world, trailing clouds of optimism, threatening to eclipse quieter souls like Merkel and the wee member States and inevitably attracting Gallic jealousy from the extravagantly vain Sarkozy. Attempts to build a British caucus around the accession States appears to have foundered. It’s all good news for the Conservatives, who now know that their fears of el Presidente for a super-state are ill founded. Their threat to treat a Blair prresidency as ” a hostile act” was a gamble, but it paid off. As soon as he can, now that the Czech president appears on the brink of signing the treaty, Cameron will settle for a weak promise to hold a British referendum – if ever the EU decides to frame another one. Perish the thought in my lifetime. See Nick Robinson’s blog

David Cameron’s “cast-iron guarantee” to Sun readers of a Euro referendum expires, I’m told, once there is no further chance of stopping the Lisbon Treaty. In its place comes a different cast-iron guarantee of a new law to force any future government to put any future EU treaty to a popular vote.

Meanwhile, after all that fuss and all that referendum voting, Europe will stumble on, much as usual.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London