Lisbon and the Cameron dilemma

So, after many, many long years in the making, the Lisbon treaty finally crawls into existence. And now we wait expectantly for David Cameron to announce his much anticipated volte-face on whether to hold a referendum. Eurosceptics in the Tory party are already apoplectic that he might renege on his supposedly cast-iron promise.

If Cameron announces today that he will not hold a referendum on Lisbon, he will simply be showing himself to be a sensible politician with an understanding of how the world works. His error, and it was a serious one, was to make his ‘cast-iron’ guarantee in the first place. It showed a worrying willingness to make very short-term political gain at the expense of both his own, his party’s and his country’s longer-term interests. I sincerely hope that the mess he now finds himself in will provide him with a useful lesson.

Europe has been uncharacteristically dormant in British political life over the past few years. There is a distinct possibility, given the vitriol poured against the EU by much of the right, that Europe will once again mark a Tory premiership. The circle that cannot be squared is that huge swathes of the Tory party cannot abide the EU and want out. Cameron, having a modicum of sense, cannot give them what they want. They will never forgive him for it.

Cameron looks set to be our next Prime Minister. How he manages his European policy, both in these last months in opposition, and in the first few months in office, will be a key indicator as to whether he is up to the job.

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