Tories press Cameron to call Lisbon Treaty referendum

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British opposition leader David Cameron faces dissent from many in his party who want a referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty if the Conservatives win power, even if the charter is already in force.

The rumblings from the hardline Eurosceptic wing of the party represent an unwelcome distraction for Cameron as the Conservatives hold their last conference (5-8 October) before a national election that they are strong favourites to win. 

If Cameron hardens his position on a referendum, he risks poisoning relations with the rest of the EU from the beginning of his Conservative administration. 

If he faces down his critics, he risks re-opening old divisions in his party over Europe which almost brought down the last Tory government, headed by John Major, in 1992. 

Irish voters’ resounding approval of the Lisbon Treaty at the second attempt last Friday has put the spotlight squarely on Cameron’s Europe policy, which could yet sink this treaty which has already caused the EU years of anguish. 

If he wins the election, widely expected to be held next May, Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it is not in force by then. 

But some Conservatives think that does not go far enough. They want Cameron to commit to holding a referendum even if all other EU countries have ratified the treaty. 

A survey of 2,205 party members undertaken by the ConservativeHome.com website for the Independent newspaper on Saturday found that more than eight in 10 want him to call a referendum even if it is approved. 

“The Conservative Party, if it wants to have any credibility in government, will have to give the people a referendum,” said John Strafford, 67, a Conservative delegate from southern England attending the conference. 

Super-state fear 

The centre-right Conservatives see the Lisbon Treaty as a step towards a European super-state. 

The British parliament has already ratified the treaty, but Cameron says he would reverse that if British voters were to reject it in a referendum, as there is a strong chance they would. 

The Irish vote leaves only Poland and the Czech Republic yet to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. Poland’s signature is a formality, but Eurosceptic Czech President Václav Klaus has delayed his decision. The treaty is also being challenged in a Czech court. Andrew Rosindell, Conservative home affairs spokesman, said he believed the British people would like a referendum whatever the circumstances. 

“I sincerely hope that the president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, will do his bit for Britain – and for Europe indeed – and hold on as long as he can so that we can have our referendum,” he told BBC radio. 

Ian Bremmer, president of US-based political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said Cameron was “reasonably likely to make good on his promise to hold a referendum”. The consequences for political relations within the EU if Britain were to kill the treaty would be much more problematic than if Ireland had done so, he said. 

If the treaty were already in effect across Europe when a Conservative government took office, Cameron says “we would not let matters rest there”. He refuses to be more specific. 

The Guardian newspaper reported on Monday that Cameron planned to repatriate social and employment powers to a national level and demand greater power over justice and home affairs. 

A Conservative spokesman called the report “speculative”. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.) 

British Conservative party leader David Cameron came under pressure from Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt, a centre-right ally and current holder of the European Union presidency, not to disrupt the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. 

Reinfeldt urged him not to put the treaty to a referendum if he were to win the election, a course of action that he is being urged to take by activists at the party's conference in Manchester. 

"We don't agree on the subject of a referendum on the treaty," Reinfeldt told Le Monde. "To make such a promise will not help the probable next prime minister of Britain." 

Conservative leader David Cameron has said he will call a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it is not fully ratified by the time the Tories come to power. The British press says that this could happen by May 2010. 

After the resounding Irish 'yes' (EURACTIV 03/10/09), only Poland and the Czech Republic have not fully completed the ratification procedures. Polish President Lech Kaczy?ski is widely expected to complete the ratification by signing the EU reform treaty in the next few days. 

This leaves only one country, the Czech Republic, where the ratification is stalled. The country's Eurosceptic president, Václav Klaus, orchestrated a second challenge to the conformity of the Lisbon Treaty with the Czech constitution. Even if the constitutional court rejects the motion, he can still neglect to sign the ratification, buying time for the UK Tories to come to power (EURACTIV 24/09/09). 

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