Monday, October 05, 2009

The betrayal starts?

Nicholas Watt of The Guardian is claiming that David Cameron has ruled out any possibility of a referendum on the constitutional Lisbon treaty if it is fully ratified by the general election.

Early ratification now seems very likely as Klaus is indicating that he might move ahead and sign up. "There will never be another referendum in Europe," he says. Asked by the BBC whether he had a message for Britain, he says: "I am afraid the people of Britain should have been doing something much earlier and not just now, too late, saying something and waiting for my decision."

Watt is reporting that "senior Tories say Cameron has accepted that it would be virtually impossible to alter the main institutional EU changes in the Lisbon treaty – the new president, a new high representative for foreign affairs, and greater powers for the European parliament – once it enters EU law. He will instead focus on measures that would mainly relate just to Britain."

If this is true, that would explain Cameron's reticence and his determination to keep "Europe" off the conference agenda.

Thus, we are told, he is planning to launch a campaign to "repatriate powers", aimed at "restoring Britain's opt-out from the social chapter" – even though the social chapter no longer exists. We will then - possibly - be allowed a faux referendum to approve these "more modest proposals", which a Conservative administration will seek to secure by a threat of blocking the accession treaties for Croatia and/or Iceland.

Watt at least recognises the mountain which Cameron would have to climb, reporting that "renegotiating the opt-out on the social chapter would need the agreement of all member states, because the measures have been sprinkled among various EU treaties which can only be amended with the agreement of all 27 member states." In other words, we are talking about an IGC and a unanimous agreement – any one member state government can block it.

A Cameron government might also demand greater powers over justice and home affairs, seeking to restore vetoes over certain provisions, replacing qualified majority voting – something which France and Germany would most certainly block.

The generality of Watt's claims is more or less confirmed by Benedict Brogan of The Daily Telegraph, who says that Cameron calculates that the EU will be so relieved to discover that the new British government is willing to live with Lisbon that it will happily grant his demand to repatriate powers.

Thus, we have yet another Conservative betrayal in the making. It was always on the cards that Cameron was going to roll over and accept the constitutional Lisbon treaty, so we are not greatly surprised. But a betrayal would be no less for that, and there will be many people, as the news sinks in, who will be thinking very hard about a four-letter acronym, and where they will deposit their votes.