Brought to our attention
Sir: Sir Edward Heath's letter (15 March) defending his conduct over the royal yacht Britannia cannot be allowed to go unchal- lenged. Quite apart from the hilarious pomposity of sentences such as, 'I am so informing Her Majesty', Sir Edward's letter serves to substantiate more than refute Bruce Anderson's original accusations (Politics, 1 February). Sir Edward emphasises that in February last year he had expressed support for a new royal yacht funded wholly at public expense. But he does not deny that in Jan- uary this year he publicly criticised Michael Portillo for announcing precisely that policy. Perhaps it is that Sir Edward so detests Thatcherites like Mr Portillo that he feels he has to oppose them even when they do exactly what he has advocated. Sir Edward, of course, claims that his motivation for opposing Mr Portillo's announcement this January was that it was party political, drawing 'the royal family, wholly reluctant- ly, into the party fray'. But Bruce Ander- son's original article had explained the rea- sons for the government's delayed timing of the announcement, and how it had owed nothing to electoral considerations. Mr Portillo, in finally making the announce- ment, was entitled to assume that it would not be a matter of political controversy. It was the public criticisms by the Labour party and by Sir Edward which made it so, thereby (as Mr Anderson says) adding to the Queen's embarrassments. On the same day as Sir Edward's letter appeared in The Spectator, he made an even more questionable intervention on the BBC's Question Time. There, in the course of a discussion about Europe, with Tony Benn criticising the European Union Coun- cil of Ministers for its secretive decision- making, Sir Edward made the extraordi- nary claim that decisions of the Council of Ministers have to be passed to national par- liaments for approval before they become binding law. This very point — whether ultimate sovereignty to make our laws rests with our own parliament or in Brussels — is at the heart of the debate about the EU, and of the Eurosceptics' concerns. Yet what Sir Edward said about it was completely and utterly wrong. When the Council of Minis- ters issues regulations, they become binding law automatically, without our parliament having any role at all. When the Council issues directives, they have to be imple- mented by the British parliament, but this is not optional: our parliament must carry out the Council's directives whether it wants to or not. That is why the directive on paw mum working hours must be enacted In our country's law, even though our parliament, as currently constituted, does not want it.
How could Sir Edward have got this basic tact so wrong? One possibility is that he does not know the truth, in which case he shows an amazing ignorance about the basic workings of the EU, which one had thought to be his chief political interest. The only possible alternative is that Sir Edward does know the truth, but deliber- ately chooses to tell the British people the Opposite — in which case Bruce Ander- son's description of him would not by any means be 'unfounded'.
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