The Tories will NOT hold a referendum on Lisbon but seek a 'manifesto mandate' to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU
This piece has been written after conversations with a dozen good sources. It does not reflect an official briefing.
LISBON IS ABOUT TO BE RATIFIED AND THE TORIES WILL NOT HOLD A REFERENDUM TO 'UNRATIFY' IT
Unless Vaclav Klaus u-turns again, the Lisbon Treaty is about to be ratified. The Conservative leadership will say that, if elected, there’ll be no attempt to ‘unratify’ it via a referendum. Lisbon is not the only problem in our relationship with the EU, goes the argument, and it would be a referendum that cannot undo Lisbon. I’m 99% certain of this position having worked the phones over the last 24 hours.
DAVID CAMERON PROMISED A REFERENDUM ON AN 'UNRATIFIED' LISBON TREATY, NOTHING ELSE
In doing this, some will say that Cameron will have broken a “cast iron” pledge – made to Sun readers - to hold a referendum. That’s unfair. The sentence from that Sun piece that is always quoted is the penultimate sentence; “Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations." But the final sentence (my emphasis) is just as important: “No treaty should be ratified without consulting the British people in a referendum.” It is also important to remember when the pledge was made. It was made 26 months ago - crucially weeks before Brown was considering holding a 'honeymoon election' - and clearly referred to the ratification process.
DAVID CAMERON DESERVES THE CONTINUING SUPPORT OF EUROSCEPTICS
Political opponents of the Conservative Party and Eurosceptic diehards will unite, of course, to deny David Cameron the benefit of any doubt in what he does next. I believe Cameron deserves the trust of grassroots Conservatives and voters, more generally. On Europe, in particular, he has delivered. He said that he would take Tory MEPs out of the European Peoples’ Party and he has. He has done so in the teeth of concerted and very nasty (yes, I’m talking about you Mr Miliband) opposition from the pro-EU establishment.
THE NEXT CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT WILL SEEK A 'MANIFESTO MANDATE' FOR RENEGOTIATION
One of the options for David Cameron is to hold a referendum that will give a new Conservative government the authority to begin a wide renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe. This was the favoured option of MOST Tory members when ConservativeHome polled them just before the Manchester Party Conference. Only 16% wanted to vote on Lisbon if it has been ratified. 55% wanted a new referendum process in order to give the government a mandate for a wider renegotiation. I’m told to expect a “muscular” response to Lisbon’s ratification and a manifesto commitment to fight for repatriation of key powers from Brussels. One member of the shadow cabinet told me that 'we don't need a mandate to renegotiate from a referendum... A manifesto mandate will be just as good'. CCHQ is worried that a referendum could easily become about issues other than Europe. 'Imagine,' said one key official at CCHQ, 'if we are in the middle of very, very difficult budget cuts. The unions and our political opponents would urge voters to use the referendum to kick the Tory government in the teeth. A manifesto mandate is safer, cleaner, less distracting.'
WE NEED A RENEWAL OF THE EUROSCEPTIC MOVEMENT
In seeking to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU mission the next Conservative government will have the support of what is set to be the most Eurosceptic parliamentary party that has ever sat in the Commons (see graphic). A Prime Minister Cameron will also lead a country that is becoming more Eurosceptic with every passing year. What is needed is a much stronger Eurosceptic movement. Business for Sterling and the 'No campaign' changed the terms of European debate in this country. They were hugely successful but were retired in order to allow the Conservatives more breathing space. They need to be restored so that the party does not have to carry all the water in this debate.
A CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT MUST DELIVER A RENEGOTIATION
The leadership wants the first year of a Conservative government to be about tackling the debt problem, schools reform, compassionate conservatism and restoring civil liberties. Understood but it cannot afford to drag its feet on renegotiation. The effort to renegotiate must be real and all necessary guerilla tactics used to get our way out of arrangements that the British people have never okayed. Someone credible to Eurosceptics needs to be appointed to handle the process, alongside respected Europe spokesman Mark Francois. As an act of reassurance I'd give the job to someone like John Redwood or David Davis. If Britain's relationship with the EU is fundamentally the same after five years of Conservative government the internal divisions that ended the last Tory period in government will look like a tea party in comparison.