By Andrew Lilico
In 2001, 2005, and 2010, I campaigned for a party that had, in its manifesto, a commitment to repatriate powers from the EU. I listened to Conservative potential candidate after candidate assure selection meeting after selection meeting that this was a conscience issue for them, that though Conservatives had let down their activists and the voters before once they entered the comfort of Parliament, they would be different.
Our Labour and UKIP opponents (alongside our Europhile Conservative allies) mocked our claims, saying that somehow once we got into office it would all prove too difficult, to inconvenient ever to actually seek to repatriate anything, that we would be "pragmatic" and compromise as Conservatives always have. Our candidates said No. I believed them. I defended them publicly. Even when others claimed that Cameron and Hague had backtracked on Lisbon, I still defended them.
But then, when we got into office, it did indeed prove too inconvenient, and the Conservative leadership was happy (nay – eager) to compromise over Europe. Other things – like the pledge to raise NHS and overseas development spending – turned out to be fixed commitments in the Coalition negotiations, but we were prepared to compromise on repatriation – even despite all those assurances over all those years to the contrary.
The Party in office has made me a liar. A liar. It has made all Conservative activists liars. We aren't interested in any vague promises about renegotiation after the next general election. We've already had three elections of such promises. We aren't interested in any commitments to renegotiate next time there's a new Treaty – there is a Treaty amendment awaiting ratification now, that could be used to renegotiate if we chose to. We aren't interested in any excuses about the Lib Dems – we didn't ask you to form a Coalition with them, and certainly not one that hamstrings us from renegotiation (do you really believe you would have got any kind of majority support from Conservative activists for a Coalition formed on that basis?). We aren't interested in anyone producing any kind of report in three years' time, setting out some possible negotiating points.
If the leadership wants to avoid a massive revolt, it must commit to commencing renegotiation – now. No promises. No reports. Deeds. There is a Treaty amendment currently awaiting ratification. A threat to withhold ratification would totally destablise the euro. We hold the cards. Now is the appointed hour.
And you, backbenchers. Many of you will need to be selected for new seats or reselected for something akin to your current seat after the boundary review. Do you want to go back to that selection committee where you banged on and on about Europe in your selection speech and tell them: "Actually, when the moment came, I compromised, because that's what being in office consists in. In opposition we can at least pretend we favour reform of our relationship in Europe, but the duty of all government is to buckle." – is that how it's to be? And when those wondering who to vote for call you a liar to your face, will you enjoy that?
Or will you prefer to say: "Others may have lied to you, but for my part I did all that I could"?
It's time to stand up and be counted. The time for promises is gone. All that counts on the ledger now is deeds.