attempting to expose
the ruse of the Trojan Horse
by striking it with a spear.
The most interesting snippet of the week is a brief but undoubtedly intriguing aside concerning Conservative policy on the EU contained in a Spectator Coffee House session of reader’s questions to David Cameron:
That Pesky Lisbon Treaty
* Will you put the EU constitution, er sorry EU reform treaty to a public referendum? If that referendum rejects the treaty will you withdraw from it? (Mike, 9.27am)
* What is the Tory policy on Europe? (batman, 11.58am)
* What will he do with the Lisbon Treaty if the tories win the general election after it has already entered into force? (Francisco Mendes da Silva, 12.00pm)
Cameron is studiously tight-lipped on this. Any discussion could draw the party into a maelstrom at a time when unity is needed. But one theory, which I have now heard from two Shadow Cabinet members, is that the Conservatives would insert in their manifesto a pledge to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union and then hold a referendum on the result. It would be a herculean task, which would take years. But when I put the proposal to Mr Cameron, I did not receive the denial I expected.
CAMERON: “These suggestions are options for how to deliver what I’ve spoken about,” (ie, his promise not to let “things rest”) “I am not going to comment favourably or unfavourably on any option like that until we are ready to do so.”
* Please ask David Cameron what he will do about the Lisbon Treaty? and will he give us the referendum he promised? (Elizabeth Elliot-Pyle, 2.53pm)
CAMERON: “We haven’t had the Irish referendum, it is still live in the capitals of Europe, if there was an election in the next few months it would still be possible to have a referendum. What I mean is if the Treaty goes through and it is passed in Westminster and Brussels and we wanted to come forward with our proposals for how we would rectify that and what we want to do about it and we will do that in time in our own time, if it does become ratified by every country in Europe. But I’m a great believer that, you know, my deadlines are to get the decisions right, to think them through carefully, to make sure that the policy works and to have it all in place for the next election whenever that is. Other people’s deadlines are rather different and I have to work to my deadlines rather than other people’s and that’s the only way to deal with it. “
If true, this would represent a major development. I say “if true” since one has to approach any such offering with the same amount of care which one gives to any assertion of fact made by Gordon Brown, to wit, with a bowl of salt to hand with which to take a pinch.
Until such a pledge appears in print, I believe in it just as much as I believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden, suspecting that the Tories are perfectly capable of saying that sort of thing now to garner support from all shades of Eurosceptic opinion and then to back away at the last minute.
Firstly we must note that Cameron is still refusing to go much beyond the next immediate step in the EU-wide ratification process. Plainly he is looking at the possibility of the Irish refusing to toe the party line which would get him (and Gordon Brown) off something of a hook. Getting a clear statement of Tory policy on the EU is going to be a process of extracting blood from a stone, I fear.
It is the anonymous report of a prospect of renegotiation of our relationship which intrigues. If this happens it represents a very real opportunity to start the process of extracting ourselves from the deadly grip of the great EU python which would suffocate us and thus afford us a chance to avoid the fate of Laocoön and His Sons.
Such a debate could not but encompass the option of complete withdrawal from the EU (otherwise it is no debate at all). It may be that that is something which Cameron has in mind: being inherently suspicious of the real purpose of allowing such a debate to take place, it may well be that the intention is to allow such a debate but so to conduct it that, whatever else happens, we remain locked into the EU, this time with the backing of a referendum which would put the issue beyond us for a generation.
Thus we must begin to work on the argument for withdrawal now to as to be best placed to influence and win the argument and ensure that we are best placed to get a majority on any question of withdrawal on a future referendum.
Now therefore comes the moment when UKIP supporters are going to have to make up their minds. UKIP has no prospect of winning a seat, let alone of becoming a significant force at Westminster. The only potential anti-EU show in town is the Conservative party. We need their votes to ensure a government at Westminster which is committed to holding this vital debate and referendum and thus we must appeal to them to vote tactically at the next General Election. That this would seriously diminish UKIP in terms of votes, there ought to be consolation in maintaining a significant presence in the EU Parliament after its 2009 elections.
If this prospect is a real one, then we must start now to prepare our case for having a withdrawal question on the ballot paper. Our case for withdrawal is a sound one but we shall be faced with all the usual bogey stories and must thus marshal our facts and support starting now. We may only get this one chance.
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