On 26th. September 2007 The Leader of the Opposition wrote this in The Sun:
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.
No treaty should be ratified without consulting the British people in a referendum.
It might be thought that this is was as clear a guarantee as you could wish to have (depending on your view of ‘cast-iron guarantees’ issued by politicians) and that it is an explicit promise to hold a Referendum on the Constitutional Treaty whether ratified or not. Given that at that moment he could not be sure when an election would be held, his reference to “if I become PM” can only mean that he would hold a referendum on the Treaty whatever the status of that Treaty might be upon his coming to power.
I noted last Friday that Mr. Hague was showing signs of ducking and diving on the issue and his performance on Andrew Marr’s programme on Sunday AM brought further indication that a U-Turn was in contemplation.
Now Mr. Cameron has himself failed to confirm that the promise he made on 26th. September would be kept in a press conference (here and here) at which he was repeatedly pressed to do so. His promise is now subject to ‘it depends on what happens during the ratification process, Ireland’s referendum and how the entrails of the cockerel I shall sacrifice next week look’.
On Friday I noted that the fact of the coming into force of the Treaty would change the nature of any Referendum. That change, however, in no way vitiates the promise which Mr. Cameron made.
If he now goes back on that promise, that would be as dishonourable a traducing of his promise as that of Mr. Brown, perhaps the more so given the swiftness with which he has resiled from it.
The danger of this failure is that Tory Eurosceptics will feel that Mr. Cameron cannot be relied upon when it comes to the Union. We have already seen the gyrations undertaken in the matter of leaving the EPP grouping in the Union Parliament. That was minor compared with this. This will make many Tories question their very loyalty to the party. It is certainly testing mine.