David Cameron stalls over Europe as split emerges with Boris Johnson
David Cameron today dug in over Europe and set himself at odds with Boris Johnson by refusing to say whether the Conservative Party would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it comes into force before the general election.
The Tory leader will try to face down his party this week in Manchester by claiming that the Conservatives should have “one policy at a time”: to promise to hold a referendum while the treaty is still being debated elsewhere in Europe.
At the same time he will move to reassure the Eurosceptic wing of the party by promising to take back control from Brussels powers over social and employment legislation, which is likely to cause a huge row with other European leaders.
But Mr Cameron suffered an immediate setback after Mr Johnson, the Mayor of London, suggested that voters “deserve a say” on the Lisbon document, even if it has been ratified and “particularly if the upshot of the Lisbon Treaty is going to produce President Blair”.
Mr Cameron has come under pressure after the Irish voted by a margin of 2 to 1 on Friday to back the Lisbon Treaty. Although the Poles and Czechs have yet to ratify the legislation, European diplomats and foreign policy experts expect this to be complete by Christmas.
The Tories have long promised to hold a referendum if the Treaty has not been brought into force. However, if it is in place they have declined to go further, simply saying that they will “not let the matter rest there”.
This morning Mr Cameron suggested that, despite the Irish vote, nothing had changed. He said: “There were three countries [outstanding] and now there are two.”
He said that he still believed there was a good chance of the Treaty being discussed. “The Czech Prime Minister has talked about three to six months [to get the case through the constitutional court] and if it’s six that takes us over a general election.”
Privately, aides to Mr Cameron admit that they have little firm evidence to go on beyond a “hope” that it won’t be in place.
On Saturday the Tory leader sent an e-mail to all activists and MPs making it clear that he did not intend to say anything else this week on the issue.
However, Mr Johnson suggested that he wants Mr Cameron to go further. In an interview with The Sunday Times he said: “If we are faced with the prospect of Tony Blair suddenly emerging, suddenly pupating into an intergalactic spokesman for Europe, then I think the British people deserve a say on it.
“I do think it would be right for such a debate to be held, particularly if the upshot of the Lisbon treaty is going to produce President Blair.”
One Eurosceptic MP told The Times that few of his colleagues were likely to make a fuss over the issue of Europe this week because they knew that it would be damaging to the party’s fortunes. The priority is that Mr Cameron continues to promise to take back powers from Brussels.
The Tory leader did so this morning, agreeing to renegotiate Europe’s role in employment and social legislation.
“We think the social and employment legislation ought to be determined nationally rather than at a European level. On home affairs and justice it isn’t right,” he said.
He denied that he wanted Britain to leave Europe, saying: “We should be members of the European Union, taking it in the right direction.”
However, he admitted that this would mean being “frank, honest and candid” with the leaders of France and Germany over where the Tories would disagree with them.
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