Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 09:02 UK

Lisbon Treaty 'tricky' for Tories

By Ross Hawkins
Political correspondent, BBC News

David Cameron
David Cameron has said he will not let the issue of the treaty rest

Conservative strategists are planning plenty of announcements for their conference - but they do not intend to make one on a European referendum.

That will surprise some, because as the party begins to gather in Manchester the Irish have announced the result of their referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Now the treaty has been accepted by the Irish, things have become tricky for the Tories.

The Irish "yes" vote could mean the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by all member states by the time of the British general election.

And if that were the case, the Conservative policy is not to let "matters rest there".

David Cameron has repeated his promise: "I want us to have a referendum. That is why we are committed to a referendum.

"As long as that treaty is being discussed and debated anywhere in Europe, we will keep fighting for that referendum.

"And if those are the circumstances at the time of the next general election, we will hold that referendum, and I would ask the British people to vote 'No' to that treaty."

But if the Tories win the general election next year, and every EU member state has ratified the treaty, then Mr Cameron has said "a new set of circumstances" will apply and he will address those at the time."


So what would addressing those circumstances mean?

For the time being, the Tories refuse to say, and they do not plan to make themselves much clearer at their conference.

A Conservative spokesman confirmed their plan is to leave the "not letting matters rest" policy unchanged whatever happens in Dublin.

But the problem for the leadership is that some in the party have no intention of letting the topic rest.

They would like to see a referendum whether the Lisbon Treaty is ratified or not - and they will put pressure on their leaders to come to the same conclusion.

The last thing the Conservatives want at their conference is a public punch-up over Europe - the subject has proved toxic for the party in the past.

But they could yet find some salvation in a Prague courtroom.

Czech senators have referred a complaint about the treaty to the country's constitutional court, which will slow up the ratification process by weeks, possibly months.

Bookmaker lists odds on Irish treaty vote
The result in Ireland will have a ripple effect across Europe

That delay could be enough to put off the issue until after the Tory conference at least, especially as the Polish president has also yet to ratify the treaty.

Beyond that there are ideas for a compromise. The Euro-sceptic think tank Open Europe has suggested if the treaty was ratified the Tories could announce a referendum on a package of EU reforms.

It is hosting the Conservative shadow Europe minister, Mark Francois, at a conference fringe event where he will be in discussion with one of the party's best known MEPs - Daniel Hannan - who would like to see Britain withdraw from the EU.

So, whatever the Irish decide, and whatever Conservative HQ intends, there will be lots of talk about Europe at the party conference.

Expect to hear much on "not letting matters rest", both from the leaders and the grassroots.

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