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Irish referendum on Lisbon "throws Tories into disarray"

Back in July I asked the question: Will the Irish ensure Europe is an issue at the Tory Party Conference?

That came as it was announced that the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty would be held two days before the Conservative conference opened in Manchester.

And according to tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph, it has well and truly put a spanner in the works:

"Party chiefs are struggling to prepare alternative policy blueprints to unveil to grassroots activists, as the mood in Ireland suggests the vote on October 2 could go either way.

"If the Irish vote No, it will give a huge boost to David Cameron's campaign to derail the EU Treaty and will open the way for the Tory leader to promise the British people a referendum on the issue. However, if Ireland votes Yes, the Treaty will move a step closer to becoming law before the end of the year, and the Tories will be plunged into a deep dilemma as to how they can possibly overturn it.

"Both Mr Cameron and William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, have already said that they would "not let matters rest" if the Treaty was ratified by all EU member states before a Tory government came to power. However, they have not said whether the British people would be offered a referendum in such circumstances."

Quoted in tomorrow's paper, shadow Europe minister Mark Francois deploys the usual formula:

"If the Lisbon Treaty is in force at the time of the next election then in our view political integration would have gone too far, the Treaty would lack democratic legitimacy in this country and we would not let matters rest there. Naturally, we will set out how we plan to take things forward in the manifesto we will put to the British people."

Whilst I have confidence in Mark Francois's ability to deliver the goods - he played a key role in the setting up of the new European Conservatives and Reformists group in Brussels, proving many doubters that it could be done - I think the party is going to have to make its intentions clear some time before the publication of a manifesto next April.

Jonathan Isaby

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