Sir Malcolm Rifkind has written the following for this week’s Spectator (not yet online):

"Already it is being argued that without a referendum, the Treaty will not have legitimacy and that the Conservatives should promise one if they win the next election, with a view to reversing ratification.

Such a proposal is silly and wrong. The government is foolish to renege on its promise of a referendum, and should be punished for it. But if the Treaty is ratified by all 27 member states, it will come into force. That cannot be reversed by a subsequent referendum in Britain. New rules on the membership of the Commission, voting in the Council of Ministers and other changes will already have taken effect. It is posturing to imply otherwise.

That is well known to the Europhobes. They seem unable to understand, however, that their proposal will cause little discomfort for Gordon Brown, but would create a major and unnecessary headache for David Cameron.

The same applies if the debates are used to make unrealistic demands for the repatriation of EU powers from Brussels. The shadow cabinet, at present, seeks repatriation of the Common Fisheries Policy and a few other limited areas. If much wider amendments were tabled, the risk would be a three-way split, with a significant minority of Tories voting with the government and the shadow cabinet abstaining.

I have not the slightest doubt this is what Gordon Brown has been discussing with his closest colleagues and what is behind the generous time he is proposing for debate. He has as much interest in genuine Parliamentary accountability as Machiavelli would have had in the Equal Opportunities Act. His tactics on Europe are as clear as his strategy is opaque. He wants to deflect attention from his own delinquency by allowing the tribal instincts of some Tories to overrule their political common sense."

It is clear that Gordon Brown does want Conservatives to be having this debate about post-ratification scenarios.  David Cameron said as much at his press conference yesterday.  Sir Malcolm is hardly bridge-building when he talks of "Europhobes" and "posturing", however.  Next he’ll be accusing the forty or so MPs who have signed Bill Cash’s EDM of being "delusional" and engaging in a "pointless" debate.  I’d hoped we’d learnt those lessons from the handling of ‘grammarsgate’.

I also think Sir Malcolm is wrong about the shadow cabinet supporting repatriation of fisheries policy.  That was Michael Howard’s policy but I do not believe it has been renewed.

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