The above headline appears on page two of today’s Mail. The Telegraph is also excited:
"David Cameron has given the strongest signal yet that the Conservatives would consider holding a post-ratification referendum on the controversial EU Reform Treaty."
Hmmm. A few thoughts:
There’s nothing bankable here: The words used by David Cameron – "If we reach circumstances where the whole Treaty has been not only ratified but implemented, that is not a situation we would be content with. We wouldn’t let matters rest there" – are almost identical to those used by William Hague last month. They are not bankable. Eurosceptics who saw much firmer promises made about EPP withdrawal in 2005 are unlikely to be reassured by what looks like tactical wording.
Brown’s broken promise on the referendum is working politically for the Tories but voters aren’t worried about the content of the Treaty: That’s the political judgment of CCHQ. Brown’s broken promise on the referendum has contributed to his low personal standing and the question marks over his character. Polling is not showing any serious evidence that voters are aware of the Treaty’s far-reaching implications, however.
The political calculus changes once the Treaty has been ratified: CCHQ is convinced that enough voters who don’t want ratification now won’t want the issue reopened if, as expected, the Treaty is ratified. What they believe is that there’s a preference for the status quo and that status quo may well favour Brown by the time of the next General Election.
The Tory leadership want to manage Britain’s relationship with Europe, they don’t want it transformed: Although all of the most senior members of the shadow cabinet are sceptical about the EU there is no stomach for a big fight with Brussels. One member of Team Cameron told ConservativeHome that they would not allow a Cameron government to be engulfed by the same "Euro-strife" that shipwrecked John Major. David Cameron was one of Michael Howard’s inner circle who fiercely opposed a much-discussed suggestion in 2004 that the Tories propose a referendum on whether Britain should stay in or leave the EU. If he was cautious then he’ll be even more cautious now that the Conservatives, ahead in the polls, have more to lose.
Eurosceptics fear that some sort of deal has been done with Ken Clarke et al: It is widely thought that Michael Howard did some sort of deal with the party’s leading Europhiles during his leadership. Has a new deal been done by David Cameron? The suspicion is that Clarke, Gummer, Heseltine, Hurd and Patten – all involved in the Cameron project to varying degrees – have been given assurances that the party will not make dramatic moves to fundamentally alter Britain’s relationship with Brussels. ConservativeHome has been told that no such deal has been done but Eurosceptic parliamentarians remain unconvinced.