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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tories feel backlash on Lisbon vote

David Cameron's confused policy on Europe became more opaque yesterday with the overwhelming vote in Ireland in favour of endorsing the Lisbon Treaty.

The Independent on Sunday reports that the Tory leader heads into his party conference facing an increasingly bitter row over Europe and a new poll showing half of voters are uncertain over what he stands for.

They say that the start of the Conservative conference in Manchester looks set to be overshadowed by escalating demands for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty after Ireland voted decisively in favour of EU reform:

Mr Cameron yesterday refused to bow to right-wing demands for a vote under a Tory government in any circumstances – even if the treaty is ratified across Europe. So far he has promised a referendum if Lisbon has not been accepted in every EU state.

The most senior elected Tory in the UK, Boris Johnson has also joined in. He believes that British voters are entitled to a referendum on the European Union treaty, even if it has already been ratified by the time the Tories win power. That is further than David Cameron has so far agreed to go.

Of course the Tory stance on this issue has been nonsense from the start. Having given us the Maastrich Treaty, which ceded more sovereignty and power to Europe than any subsequent agreement, the Conservatives have sought to use the Lisbon Treaty as a proxy to undermine Britain's membership of the European Union. There is no tradition in Britain of referenda on Treaties as there is in Ireland and nor should there be.

Nick Clegg took some stick for suggesting that the real vote that the British people should have was over whether we stay in Europe or not, but that was the effective purpose of Cameron's argument.

The Lisbon Treaty changes the way that the European Community is run to accomodate its increased size and also introduces greater accountability to the directly elected European Parliament. Any British plebiscite would have been turned into a proxy vote on our membership of that institution, so why not be upfront in the first place and offer that choice?

What is most interesting about this affair is the way that Cameron's accomodations on Europe are slowly being unpicked by the right wing of his party. The reasonable moderate face of Toryism that he has tried to develop is falling apart already and he has not yet won an election.
Good analysis Peter. I have never understood what the Conservative alternative to being in the EU might be - they always hark back to some 'good old days' as if we could rewind history and recreate the British Empire. I heard Eric Pickles on the Politics Show trying to justify their new alliance partners in the European parliament by harking back to 1945 when Labour looked to the Soviet Union for alliances. I sense that they are more backward looking now than I have ever seen them - looking to recapture some 'golden age' which never actually existed. God help us if they actually get power.

Nick Clegg took some stick for suggesting that the real vote that the British people should have was over whether we stay in Europe or not

I understand that poster-boy Dan Hannan's view is that there should be a vote on staying in the EU and never mind the Lisbon Treaty. Could it be that we will go into the election with the same manifesto promise as the Conservatives??
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