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Independent: Europe Must be a Priority for the Tories

October 5, 2009

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Bruce Anderson says David Cameron's Tories will have to eventually "renegotiate" Britain's relations with the European Union.

There was never much chance that Ireland would rescue the Tories from the Lisbon Treaty. After the credit crunch, the Celtic tiger lost its confidence. For months, the Irish have been bullied, bribed and blackmailed. They were told that if they behaved themselves, largesse would rain down on them. If they persisted in error, there might be another potato famine. Predictably, they buckled.

The Tory leadership still has hopes of Poland and the Czech Republic, who have yet to ratify. In both cases, the decision-making is caught up in the interstices of domestic politics and the legal system. In each case, it could take time and there is uncertainty. So the question about a Tory government's response to a fully ratified Lisbon is still hypothetical enough to give David Cameron an excuse not to answer it. That will not prevent it from being asked.

Mr Cameron and his closest advisers have been aware of this problem for at least 18 months. During that time, one might have expected them to come up with plan B: what to do in the worst-case scenario of Lisbon in place and a flat refusal to re-open the question. But if such a plan does exist, I have had no inkling of it.

The Cameroons are Eurosceptics. David Cameron himself is wholly free from the taint of federasty. But the Tory leadership would much prefer not to have a punch-up with the EU. They do not wish to condemn their party to yet another of the rows that were so destructive in the Nineties, especially when they have so many other priorities and such a demanding agenda. Yet there may be no choice, for politicians are not always allowed to set their own agenda. In this case democracy and morality will demand a say.

Before the 2005 election, Tony Blair gave a guarantee that there would be a referendum on the EU constitution. That helped him to win. After winning, the Government broke its word, on the pretext that the Lisbon Treaty was a significantly different document, something which no serious person believes. So Tony Blair and Gordon Brown reneged on their promise. In order to justify this breach of faith, they misrepresented the true nature of the Lisbon Treaty. Over the centuries, not all British politicians have been honest. But I cannot think of any modern instance of dishonour and dishonesty which even comes remotely close. For that, we would have to return to the reign of Charles II and the secret dealings with France, generally agreed to be one of the lowest moments in British history.

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