The last time this country was offered a referendum on Europe, I was one of four children under 10 lolling on the back seat of our Renault Four. It had a peculiar gearstick, and the driver could find reverse only after various undignified contortions – rather like Tony Blair. Those were the days before seatbelts in the back, and we used to bounce around so merrily that by the end of any long voyage our bench was a glorified vomitorium. We also had a bumper sticker, and it said “Yes to Europe!”
Of course it did. It was 1975, and those were the days when saying yes to Europe meant saying yes to so many things that were obviously good and civilised. It meant yes to tariff-free French wine; yes to your right to become a dentist in Brussels; yes to spaghetti al vongole; yes to selling life insurance to the Germans; yes to the high, happy, innocent ideals of free trade and co-operation with our friends and partners.
How changed, mes amis, is the modern European Union from that Common Market, and how it continues to octopus itself into every corner of our lives – including the back seats of our cars. Under Mr Blair’s amazing U-turn, the public will now be invited to support a new “constitution” for this country and the rest of the continent. The text contains various federalising advances that have been well-trailed, and which are likely to remain whatever is agreed in June: European presidents, European foreign policy supremos complete with European foreign policy, European judicial harmonisation, human rights charters and all the rest of it.
You may or may not think these things, on their own, are enough to deserve a No vote; but let us concentrate for now on the way the treaty extends the system of majority voting – by which national governments can be overruled – and which I believe to be deeply corrupting of democracy.