#E030* - IRELAND'S REFERENDUM GIVES CAMERON A HEADACH!!
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IRELAND'S REFERENDUM GIVES CAMERON A HEADACH, WITH A VOTE TOO CLOSE TO CALL!!!
Lisbon Treaty vote throws Tories into disarray
A crucial referendum in Ireland on the controverisal Lisbon Treaty has plunged preparations for next month's Conservative conference into disarray.
By Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor
Published: 9:00PM BST 05 Sep 2009
Party chiefs are struggling to prepare alternative policy blueprints to unveil to grassroots activists, as the mood in Ireland suggests the vote on October 2 could go either way.
If the Irish vote No, it will give a huge boost to David Cameron's campaign to derail the EU Treaty and will open the way for the Tory leader to promise the British people a referendum on the issue.
However, if Ireland votes Yes, the Treaty will move a step closer to becoming law before the end of the year, and the Tories will be plunged into a deep dilemma as to how they can possibly overturn it.
Both Mr Cameron and William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, have already said that they would "not let matters rest" if the Treaty was ratified by all EU member states before a Tory government came to power.
However, they have not said whether the British people would be offered a referendum in such circumstances.
The treaty is proving one of the most intractible problems for Mr Cameron, who has vowed to weaken the hold which Brussels has over national decision making.
Critics say that changes to the EU decision-making process contained in the document would erode national sovreignty.
When the Conservatives gather for their annual conference two days after the Irish vote, activists are likely to use the event to press the leadership for a clear statement.
Mark Francois, the shadow minister for Europe, said the Conservatives would set out in their manifesto what they intend to do to tackle the Treaty if the Irish vote Yes and it goes through before the UK general election, which must be held by next June.
Mr Francois said: "It is still open to Gordon Brown to hold the referendum the British people were promised.
"That is what he ought to do. If the Treaty is not yet in force at the time of the next election and a Conservative government is elected we would hold that referendum and we would recommend the Treaty's rejection.
"But if the Lisbon Treaty is in force at the time of the next election then in our view political integration would have gone too far, the Treaty would lack democratic legitimacy in this country and we would not let matters rest there.
"Naturally, we will set out how we plan to take things forward in the manifesto we will put to the British people.
"We have also consistently made it clear that the restoration of our national control over social and employment legislation would be a major goal for a Conservative government."
But a manifesto pledge next year may not be enough to appease some activists. Many Tory MPs are now complaining bitterly behind the scenes that Mr Cameron and Mr Hague need to state their position as a matter of urgency.
Insiders say Mr Cameron is secretly hoping for events to intervene. He is said to believe there are legal problems which could yet thwart the Treaty's ratification even if the Irish vote Yes.
The main hope centres on Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, who has referred the document to his country's constitutional court.
In seeking a ruling on whether the treaty complies with the Czech constitution, Mr Klaus could delay signing it into Czech law until the court had given its verdict.
The Tories hope that if that process runs for months it could stall the Treaty until the UK general election, after which, if they won, they would stage a referendum to scupper it.
Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley, said: "If Klaus can hold firm and not sign until May or June next year then we are potentially in business.
"If Ireland votes yes that's our last remaining chance. William Hague and David Cameron need to stiffen his resolve. We need to say to him 'Hang on, the cavalry's coming.'"
The treaty, which campaigners argue is the rejected EU Constitution in all but name, includes federalist reforms seen as diminishing national sovereignty in foreign affairs and law and order.
In Ireland, where it was rejected in a vote last year, the outcome of the forthcoming second referendum remains in the balance with four weeks to go but there are signs that the mood is shifting in favour of a No vote.
A poll for the Irish Times last week, the first since the campaign was launched, found that the Yes campaign was still in the lead, with 46 per cent support, but had dropped eight points since the previous poll in May.
The No campaign had 29 per cent support, up by one point over the summer, whilst the size of the Don't Know category had increased sharply by seven points to 25 per cent.
Pat Cox, campaign director of Ireland for Europe, a group promoting ratification, appeared nervous, saying: "Ireland is a very different place today to what it was a year ago. The financial crisis has rocked our confidence. We are reeling from a series of body blows over the last 12 months.
"There are those on the No side who will seek to exploit our present uncertainty to encourage the Irish people to vote against our own interests and reject the Treaty."
Hostility to the Lisbon Treaty will be intensifed by a startling intervention by Karel de Gucht, Belgium's newly appointed EU Commissioner, who suggested that the treaty was designed so that people could not understand it in a bid to avoid "real debate".
He said: "Whilst the original Constitutional Treaty was technical, and correct, people didn't read the Lisbon Treaty, they didn't understand the first word about it. No real debate about the Lisbon Treaty could happen.
"This was a deliberate decision of the European Council."
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