I see there has been some talk this weekend about David Cameron and his "cast-iron" guarantee for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty having wiggle room. Iain Dale has posted arguing that if the treaty is finally ratified by all the member states of the EU then a referendum is pointless because you can't "unratify" it as it were so it would just be gesture politics. Iain also argues that what we should hope for is that the Tories seek the repatriation of powers from the EU instead.
Now, more often than not I agree with Iain, however on this I don't. For a start, there is an option available on Lisbon that would allow for its "unratification" by Britain. There is withdrawal clause in the Treaty. The Treaty states anyone can leave, but in order to do so you have to tell the European Council and then negotiate your exit. From a pure bargaining position, what would the Eurocrats reaction would be to the opening of withdrawal negotiation? They'd be facing the potential of Britain's EU budget contribution disappearing. I think they'd panic.
However, I also think that what really would be a gesture, would be if Cameron continued to push this absolute bullshit that it was going to repatriate powers from the EU (presumably argued on the subsidiarity principle). I wouldn't expect much success though, such a move would be too "unEuropean" for them to comprehend. As I've said many times before on this blog, whilst I support withdrawal from the EU, Britain's biggest problem in her dealings with it is that she is too bloody British. The reason none of the other member states get as over-animated about the EU as Britain does is because they have a completely different attitude to it along the line of, "when the EU suits us then great, otherwise affanculo!" (as they might say in Rome)
This is why the idea that Britain can negotiate some powers back simply won't work. It's not because the others want the EU to keep the powers, it's because the others just don't understand why Britain can't just ignore the EU when it suits her to do so like they all do. In private they'll be scratching their heads thinking "those crazy British, why do they have to be such meticulous rule followers? Why can't they be more European?"
If we must stay in the EU we have to start being more like them by only implementing the bits we like and ignoring the rest. What are they going to do if we ignore them sometimes? Invade?
However, I digress. Should there be a referendum on Lisbon even if it's ratified? Most definitely. It should be a referendum on whether we should withdraw from the Lisbon Treaty - something the Treaty actually provides for. Yes, that does mean it would be an "in/out" referendum which would please the Lib Dem, but seeing as a large portion of this country has never had a say isn't it about time?
In fact wouldn't it be a good principle to have a confirmation of membership of the European Union every thirty years or so? Why should one generation be able to bind the hands of the next? Sadly though, I don't think David Cameron has the balls to hold just one referendum, so, whilst I disagree with Iain Dale that we can "repatriate power", I do agree that will be the inevitable gesture politics we're all going to get.
Update: How long before UKIP take this post and add Cameron too it?