Tuesday, 3 November 2009

No Santa Klaus for David Cameron

With the Czech ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, all 27 EU countries have signed up and it is now law. The way is clear for a new European Commission and the election of an EU President which might or might not be Tony Blair.

For the Conservatives, Czech ratification is a blow and for David Cameron in particular who made a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty an integral part of his successful leadership election campaign in 2005, this is a setback. Using words such as "cast-iron guarantee" in articles in newspapers like The Sun is poor politics - it gives a hostage to fortune and so it has proved. Tory policy on Europe, an issue which has divided Conservatives for a generation, is once more tonight in a shambles.

To be fair, none of the three main parties have come out of this with any credit. The Liberal Democrats promised a referendum on Lisbon but backtracked in the summer of 2008 under Nick Clegg and proposed a straightforward "in-out" referendum which is effectively where the Tories are now. I condemned Nick Clegg at the time for his backtrack but his political judgement on this was superior to David Cameron's.

Gordon Brown has nothing to crow about either - as with John Major over Maastricht he has affected a major change in British legislation and a major transfer of powers to Brussels without consulting the British people.

So, what now ? The prospect of an "in-out" referendum must be the ultimate nightmare for David Cameron as it would tear the Tories apart much as it did Labour in 1975 yet his Euro-sceptics feel cheated. An offer of re-negotiation might appease some but it is fraught with practical difficulties as all the other 26 EU countries would have to support or accept Britain's renegotiation. Perhaps there is an avenue on the Budget front but that would be equally fraught with technical issues.

All in all, a bad day for democracy and a worse one for David Cameron.

No comments: