Yesterday in the House of Commons Hague waffled his way through the problem:
Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that the best time for a referendum is now, so that the British people can have their promised say. If we did not succeed in forcing a referendum in this House, if we failed to win in another place, if all other EU member states implemented the treaty and if an election were held later in this Parliament—that is a lot of ifs—we would have a new treaty in force that lacked democratic legitimacy in this country and in our view gave the EU too much power over our national policies. That would not be acceptable to a Conservative Government and we would not let matters rest there; the right hon. Gentleman can be assured of that.
It is all very well for him to give an all-embracing answer such as “we would not let matters there”, but such prevarication merely opens the party’s position to attack and risks diminishing the power of the weapon Brown has placed in their hands.
The proposition on the Constitution treaty is that the British people are intelligent enough for themselves to work out whether this is a good or bad thing for Britain and therefore a referendum is an appropriate way of dealing with it. But we are also intelligent enough to understand that once ratified the situation is more complicated and the various options then open have important ramifications. The Tories should treat us as adults therefore and spell out now what those ramifications are so that we may better understand what is at stake here.Unless they do so their policy risks losing any credibility.
We may yet get a referendum pre-ratification, if enough Labour backbenchers rediscover their honour and honesty. But if not the chances are that this Treaty will be rammed throughout against the will and without the whole-hearted consent of the British people. Its objectionable nature does not disappear with ratification but instead begins actually to operate to our national disadvantage.
Three courses then beckon: renegotiation, derogation or repudiation.
The first would involve going back to the Union and asking for parts of the treaty to be renegotiated. One is bound to think that this is a non-starter. The Union and the EuroNabobery has not gone to such great lengths and such deception merely to roll over after it has got the whole rotten edifice in place and allow one recalcitrant subject to try and unravel it once more. It will not happen.
The second course implies that we would notify the Union that we resile from various parts of the Treaty and the third that we withdraw entirely from it. Both are serious steps to take as both would involve a fundamental alteration in our relationship with the Union.
Yet it is this very fact that the Tories would conceal from us. By so doing they risk the accusation that they are not being straight with the British electorate. Why not instead be bold and trust us with the truth?
As a party we should make clear what the consequences of ratification are and set out clearly what steps a Conservative Government would then take. I suggest the following:
1. A referendum within a few months of a new Conservative Government on the question: Her Majesty’s Government considers that the Treaty of Lisbon is damaging to the independence and the national interests of the United Kingdom and that the relationship it creates should be renegotiated. Do you agree?
2. Mandated with a ‘Yes’ vote, HMG goes heavily armed into negotiations with the EU. If renegotiation is refused, then the Union bosses must be told that everything is up for grabs. And be reminded that defying the democratic will of the British people is not going to look too good, especially as it will (with the exception of the Irish) be the only such expression in the Union which will only serve to underline their own lack of democratic credentials
Let us then see who blinks first.
By then, it is said, Tony Blair might have become the Union’s Capo di Tutti Capi. Now that would be a delicious irony: it would be worth voting against the Treaty just for that!