In 2007, David Cameron gave what he called “a cast-iron commitment” that if he became Prime Minister, he would hold a referendum on Lisbon. No ifs. No buts. No conditionality.
More recently, the condition “if not fully ratified” has crept in, with the rider that if the Treaty is ratified “We will not let matters rest”.
Today, William Hague has confirmed that there will be no post-ratification referendum. The Party will make a full statement tomorrow.
I disagree with those who say that there is no sense in a post-ratification referendum. For a start, we should simply be keeping our word, which is a great place to start. In addition, we should be drawing attention to the enormity of Labour’s great betrayal. With a clear manifesto commitment to a referendum, they have driven through this miserable Treaty without giving the people a say. But most important, a NO vote in a Lisbon referendum would give an in-coming Conservative government the most powerful mandate for renegotiation that they could possibly have.
In today’s Daily Telegraph, Damian Chalmers, Professor of European Union Law at LSE, argues that a ratified treaty cannot be renegotiated, and that therefore a Lisbon referendum would in effect be a referendum on “In or Out”. This is a typically narrow lawyer’s interpretation. In the EU, realpolitik always trumps the letter of the treaty. De Facto beats De Jure. Cameron says he wants to stay in the EU. Our partners in the EU will want to keep us in one way or the other, and they will negotiate — but only if we have a strong negotiating mandate, only if they think that a failed negotiation could indeed lead to the In/Out question being put.
I have even heard it argued that once ratified, Lisbon is no longer a treaty, but “part of EU law”, and therefore that there is nothing to have a referendum about. This is playing with words. We all know what the Treaty of Rome is, and the Maastricht Treaty. No one pretends that they no longer exist. Indeed the whole “body of EU law” is made up of successive treaties, and accretions around them.
To argue that once ratified, the Lisbon Treaty is no longer the Lisbon Treaty, is as disingenuous and self-serving as Labour’s argument that the Lisbon Treaty is not the same thing as the failed European Constitution, despite the fact that 99% of the text is the same.
I was born in England in the closing years of the Second World War. My birthright was to be a free-born Englishman, a subject of the British Crown, and to live in a free and democratic country, governed by laws made by those I and other English folk had elected to parliament. Freedom, independence, democracy, self-determination are the birthright now being taken from us. That is why my business card says “Working to reclaim the independence and self-government of our country”. That is why I am not prepared to end my days as a “European Citizen” in a remote offshore province of a new country called Europe.
The last referendum on the EU was in 1975 — more than a generation ago. No one under 50 has had an opportunity to pass judgement on the European project, which is a world away today from the Common Market on which we voted in 1975. We in the Conservative Party solemnly promised the British people that opportunity, in our last general election manifesto, and again and again afterwards.
It may be that if we have a hang-up on a post-ratification referendum, then we could offer the British people an EU referendum with slightly different wording (perhaps about the terms of renegotiation). But what we cannot and must not do is to go back to our Party members, and to the voters of Britain, and say “Tough luck, lads. We promised you that you could have a say on the EU, but we’ve changed our mind”.
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