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Our new European policy is confused and essentially cosmetic - and I cannot defend it from the frontbench

Conservative Home - Thursday, 5th November 2009

Yesterday I joined a phone-in programme on the Lisbon Treaty on BBC Radio Northampton. I am well aware of public attitudes to the EU, yet even I was taken aback by the relentlessly hostile flow of comment about the Lisbon Treaty, and the way that it has been rail-roaded through in the teeth of public opposition. It is clear that the EU has lost any claim it might have had to democracy and legitimacy. Many speakers were also very unhappy about the withdrawal by the Conservative Party of its commitment to a Lisbon referendum.

The presenter turned to me in the forlorn hope that, as an MEP in Brussels, I might have an alternative view. He was disappointed. Like all Conservative MPs and MEPs, I was elected on an explicit Manifesto Commitment to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Yesterday, David Cameron rejected that commitment and repudiated that policy.

I respect the view of those who say that you can't have a referendum on a fully-ratified treaty, but I think they're wrong. Such a referendum would serve three ends: first we should be keeping our word. Second, we should put the spotlight on the shocking betrayal of the British people by this Labour government. But third, and most important, we should give a future Conservative government a rock-solid mandate for renegotiation.

Yet if those who argue against such a referendum win the day, we at least have an obligation to give the British people a say in some form, perhaps along the lines proposed recently by David Davis in the Daily Mail. We have a clear duty to let the British people speak at last on this vexed issue.

Our new policy is confused. We have said that now that the Lisbon Treaty is EU law, we are not in a position to repudiate it. Yet we have made a series of proposals which repudiate significant parts of it, and run counter to EU law -- for example the proposed Sovereignty Bill. But as we all know, the supremacy of EU Law is explicit in the Lisbon Treaty. If we accept Lisbon, we accept the supremacy of EU law.

A "Referendum Lock" will not work, because we have already thrown away the key. Our policy fails to recognise the self-amending nature of Lisbon, with its passerelle clauses. Until now, EU integration has been step-wise, Treaty by Treaty. Now it will become a continuous process of daily attrition, successive salami slices. That is, in large part, the main point of Lisbon. It is designed to eliminate the problems and referenda defeats which successive Treaties have faced, and to provide for integration by stealth. If we are not prepared to stand and fight on the enormity of the Treaty itself, we will scarcely stand and fight on the subsequent salami slices.

What we have is an essentially cosmetic policy. We are installing a largely ineffective burglar alarm when the family silver has already been stolen. But the British people don't want vague promises. They want the family silver back in good order.

I intend to continue to support the Party, and to work for a Conservative victory in 2010, since it is overwhelmingly in the best interests of my constituents, and of the country, to have a Conservative government under David Cameron, rather than the present failing and disastrous Labour administration.

But I can neither justify nor support our new EU policy. In these circumstances, I have concluded that I can no longer continue to serve as a spokesman for the delegation. I have accordingly resigned both my spokesmanships with immediate effect.

So have I given up in despair? Not yet. These developments are a set-back, but not yet a death-knell. For years I have publicly supported the Better Off Out campaign, and I will continue to do so. You can only defy the will of the people for so long, and the longer you do so the angrier they get. Transnational governments that fail to respect the identity and aspirations of the people cannot survive -- consider Yugoslavia, or the USSR.

We have lost the hope of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but I believe that I shall live to see the day when we have a referendum on EU membership, and Brussels is working hard, if unconsciously, to firm up the OUT vote. I put my faith in the angry callers of Northamptonshire, and others like them up and down the country.