EU casts a shadow over Tory conference

By Ian Dunt

Conservative party members, MPs and activists are travelling to Manchester today for the opening of the Tory party conference.

But events in Ireland are threatening David Cameron’s desire for a united front at the conference, by putting his European policy directly in the spotlight.

Mr Cameron promised a referendum on the Lisbon treaty – which the Irish accepted by 67 per cent yesterday – if it had not already been set in stone.

The Irish vote was the last obstacle to the treaty’s ratification by all member states, other than an assumed acceptance by the Czech Republic and Poland next year.

A referendum on the treaty now would be all but unprecedented, given Britain has ratified it.

But eurosceptics in the party are demanding Mr Cameron go back on his previous statement and promise a referendum on the treaty early in his first parliament.

The calls were being spearheaded today by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who wrote in the Sunday Times that British voters would be “jealous” of their Irish counterparts if they were not given the opportunity to vote as well.

A referendum will be furiously avoided by Tory HQ. It would see a Conservative government entangled in a bizarre and strange constitutional predicament by making it reverse a treaty which has already been ratified.

Leaders across Europe would be irate and hostile to such a move, and it is difficult to predict the effect it would have on Britain’s international standing.

On the domestic front, a referendum would open up old wounds in the Tory party which are yet to heal. Even Mr Cameron’s front bench team are divided on Europe, and the Tory leadership will be keen for those divisions to not be made public.