Conservative Diary

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A post-ratification referendum on Lisbon would be meaningless

6pm update:

William Hague has officially confirmed to Sky News that a Conservative Government would not hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. More here. David Cameron will be giving a news conference on the matter tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.


I never thought the day would come when I appeared on a radio discussion about Europe and that I would be the person chosen by the producer to be the voice of moderation.

I have been a staunch eurosceptic since I first started following politics in the late 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. I remember the day I was thrown out of a German class aged fourteen for arguing with the europhile teacher against her integrationist position.

And I fondly recall how I went to the summer conference of the youth wing of the French RPR party in 1998 and addressed an audience of 2,000 (in French) with my British Conservative vision of Europe (borrowing a phrase of John Redwood's in my assertion that "L'Europe est notre continent et pas notre pays").

Yet today I found myself in Simon Mayo's Radio 5 Live studio at the BBC arguing against Robert Oulds, a Conservative councillor and director of the Bruges Group, on the issue of the Lisbon Treaty.

Robert was arguing that it would be a failure of leadership on David Cameron's part not to give the country a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if he becomes Prime Minister next year. His position was virtually  theological in arguing that David Cameron made that "guarantee" in 2007 and that he simply has to follow through with it and hold a referendum.

Tim has already explained here the context of that guarantee and why, therefore, it is unfair to suggest that it should necessarily still stand. And earlier he cited the Spectator's James Forsyth who this morning provided an eloquent analogy which I reproduce again here :

"Imagine if someone trying to buy Liverpool Football Club gave a ‘cast-iron’ guarantee that they wouldn’t sell Fernando Torres but then the existing owners did before selling up. We wouldn’t then think the new owner had broken their guarantee if they didn’t re-sign Torres."

I agree with that. At the end of the day, the manifesto on which David Cameron stands and - I hope - wins the general election next year will quite simply trump anything that a referendum on Lisbon a few weeks later would conclude.

Such a plebiscite would be an utterly meaningless waste of time, if a Government has just been elected on a clear set of promises regarding the action it intends to take on Europe and the powers it is seeking to repatriate.

David Cameron has promised to set out that position and now that Vaclav Klaus has signed the Lisbon Treaty, I trust that he will do so. Remember, he promised that he would take British MEPs out of the EPP and aided by - among others - William Hague and Mark Francois, he ensured that this happened, despite the many voices saying that he would not be able to pull this off.

So I would plead with Robert Oulds, Bill Cash and other Conservatives who are obsessing about the need for a referendum specifically on the Lisbon Treaty to let that go as the terms of trade have now changed.

UKIP peer Lord Pearson has just been on television gloating about the possibility of robbing 50 Conservative candidates of seats they ought to win next year. Therein lies the danger of not getting behind the party leadership on what I trust will be a robust line when he outlines it tomorrow.

Jonathan Isaby


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