There is continuing worry about the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, and rightly so.
Doubtless the EU will want to rush the ratification through in Ireland as soon as possible. They have sought to impose a November 2009 deadline for another vote and given various “assurances”. They must be well aware that David Cameron is serious about holding a referendum here if the Treaty has not been ratified and brought into effect by all EU members before the time of the next UK General Election. They must also be aware that there is likely to be a large majority against accepting the Treaty.
The EU realises that it is not going to be easy getting the Treaty agreed by the Irish people in time. There also remains the question of the attitude of the Czech President. The UK Conservative pledge to have a referendum if the Treaty is not ratified is an important one. Some of us have been desperate to have a referendum on any aspect of the EU over the last decade, as we have opposed the large transfers of powers in Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon and wish to let the people have a say. We have been powerless at Westminster to stop the federalist rush, given the large federalist majority from the combined forces of Labour and the Lib Dems.
The Conservative leadership does not wish to spell out what it would do in the event of full ratification everywhere else. There is a good reason for this. You do not normally in politics set out your position on the assumption that you lose the next war. The Leadership would not wish in any way to undermine the opposition to the Treaty elsewhere in the EU by implying it is bound to be ratified in every other country.
We are left with the phrase, the Conservative leadership “will do whatever it takes” to deal with the problem. That must mean a renegotiation. There is not just Lisbon which Conservative MPs (with perhaps 5 exceptions) oppose strongly, but also Nice and Amsterdam which we voted against. Some of us still have disagreements with parts of Rome and other Treaties as well.
The big issue will be how many powers does the UK want back? How many opt outs and different arrangements do we need to add to the important opt out from the Euro which we already enjoy? Can we get control of our borders back? Can we restore our authority over employment and social legislation? These were areas which previous Conservative governments carefully protected and which Labour has given away.
As far as I am concerned, what will be needed if it comes to this is the promise of a referendum on any deal that the Conservatives do negotiate in Brussels to restore powers. That has two great advantages. It means the rest of the EU will understand if they do not give the UK enough self government back, the public are likely to veto the deal, increasing the chances of a better settlement. It also means the UK public will at last get their chance to express an opinion on the whole project.