David Blackburn

Forget referenda. If the Irish vote Yes, a future Conservative government would have to adopt the Lisbon treaty

Forget referenda. If the Irish vote Yes, a future Conservative government would have to adopt the Lisbon treaty
Text settings

According to exhaustive polling data, the Irish will vote Yes to the Lisbon treaty. With Czech senators looking set to ratify the treaty also, the probable future Conservative government in this country faces a dilemma: what to do about Lisbon. Simple, says Bill Emmot in the Times. Cameron and Hague must hold their noses because it is in their national and partisan interests to do so.

‘For a new Tory government in Britain, the European scene could not be better, with right-wing parties in power in both France and Germany. The chance is there to seek common cause on an issue dear to Tory hearts, namely defence and the protection of the Nato alliance, under threat from spending cuts and from the dreadful stresses of Afghanistan. The chance is there too to seek common cause on pro-market ways to manage environmental policy, on sensible re-constructions of financial regulation, and on the rescuing of the European single market from the damage caused by Chancellor Merkel’s own pre-election bailout for the Opel car company.

No British government, let alone a Tory one, is going to fall head over heels in love with a French or German counterpart of any political stripe. But to provoke a row over a boring institutional treaty, which virtually everyone else has already agreed to, would be folly, grand scale. Indeed, if Messrs Cameron and Hague do hang on to Lisbon as one of their battles, it would raise serious doubts about their fitness for government.’

Knowing when to pick your fights is the essence of statecraft and Lisbon is not a battle this country can win. If all other member states have signed, and the Tories remain committed to the EU, then they have no option but to adopt it. Besides, there are more important pan-European issues than the Lisbon treaty that Cameron should take a stand on – the Nato alliance, resisting further expansion in practice, Iran’s nuclear threat, Chinese dollar imperialism and, above all, immigration. He must save his powder for these.

But there is, of course, a very significant problem with such a strategy, which I’m sure Coffee Housers will express. Whilst French voters have shown a comprehensive and extremely Gallic indifference to their government’s disregard for their wishes, British voters would not. The real test of Mr. Cameron’s political leadership will be how he controls the Eurosceptic backlash.