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Lisbon is David Cameron's number one headache

In today's FT there are reports of business leaders wanting the Conservatives to accept Lisbon if, as is expected, it is ratified by Ireland and then by the Czech Republic (despite Vaclav Klaus). In the latest ConservativeHome poll of Tory members, however, there is no desire for matters to rest with ratification:

55%say29%say More details of the poll are on these pages, all dedicated to our biggest ever poll of the Conservative grassroots.

But if the grassroots want the next Conservative government to be hawkish on Europe, the Tory leadership fear an exhausting quagmire that will dominate the early years of the first Conservative government of the 21st century.  Team Cameron want to spend the next few years as social and economic reformers.

One Tory MEP who is relatively enthusiastic about European integration told ConservativeHome that leaving the EPP had exhausted the Tory leadership's appetite for Euroscepticism.  The latest (strongly disputed) story about Angela Merkel's anger with the Conservatives being the latest example of this phenomenon.  Exiting the EPP had produced so much bad publicity that the Conservative leadership may find a way of avoiding more of the same.  Our MEP source said:

"The Eurosceptics won exit from the EPP and in achieving that have used up nearly all their capital with the leadership. Having witnessed the opposition to the simple step of forming a new group of MEPs they are not ready to embark on the fifty times bigger task of renegotiating Britain's whole relationship with the EU."

David Cameron and William Hague want to avoid a direct confrontation with the party's Eurosceptic members and MPs and it is therefore unlikely that there will be any big shift in the party's position over coming days - whatever Ireland has decided.  An evolution of position is more likely.  They want the party to be focused on beating Labour and then beating the budget deficit.  They want to avoid the party beating itself up over the issue that caused such electorally deadly division in the 1990s.

Tim Montgomerie

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