In the Independent today Simon Carr returns to what is becoming one of his favourite games - lampooning Home Office Minister Joan Ryan. He writes:
"The Joan Ryan Club, a small but exclusive band of obsessives, will appreciate the following. There are some low minds who question the use of Ms Ryan. I've done so myself, I fear, in years gone by. But she is an essential figure in government. She is a sandbag. When a grenade is lobbed into the government trench she throws herself over it. Or maybe she gets thrown on to it. That is her talent. She is a blast-absorber."
The reason he returns to taunt Ryan is that the European Scrutiny Committee has just released a new report which is highly critical of her decision to agree to new EU legislation even though the Committee had not yet approved it and was still holding it under scrutiny reserve.
Ryan's defence was that she had just agreed to a "general approach" with other EU ministers rather than reaching full agreement before consulting the Committee. Some of her arguments are a reassuring reminder that the spirit of Sir Humphrey is alive and well in Whitehall:
"When we talk about "agreement on the text", that is in the common usage of the word "agreement". It is not in relation to political agreement as a definition of a final decision subject to the linguist lawyers at the European Union. Perhaps I can say that maybe usage of the word "agreement" has caused some confusion, and certainly, if that is the case, I would apologise for that and it is regrettable and that is one of things I will take back. When I mentioned issues such as working with the officials and staff training and trying to better monitor the match between our process here and our process in the EU, that is precisely one of the issues I will feed in."
"It is the case when you reach a general approach that one would expect substantive issues to be agreed upon around the Council table, or I think it would be very difficult to be able to reach a general approach. So if as a government we were not satisfied in relation to the issues within the proposal, if others round the table were very dissatisfied, then I think it would be difficult to reach a general approach, and I think that was the case in December. But is still remains the fact that when you reach a general approach, although there probably is agreement around the table on substantive issues, it is still subject to scrutiny reserve, the issue can still be reopened, and there are examples where in fact this has happened. There are not many, I agree. The reason there are not many is that the likelihood is substantive issues are agreed upon, or there is general agreement in the common usage of the word "agreement", before a general approach would be reached at a Council."