|Friday, 16 January 2009||
Mr Cameron has put the Tories on election alert, believing there is a 50/50 chance Gordon Brown, prime minister, will go to the polls in 2009, cashing in on public support for his handling of the recession.
The Tory leader believes there could be an election as early as April – more than a year before the last possible election date of June 2010 – opening up the opportunity for him to derail the EU’s flagship treaty.
Mr Cameron told the Financial Times that in such circumstances “we could have a referendum in October” on the treaty, in which he would lead the campaign for a No vote. The “moderately eurosceptic” Tory leader expects to win that vote.
The Tories believe the treaty – which would create a new EU president and foreign minister and simplify the Union’s decision-making procedures – would have the effect of transferring too much power to Brussels.
A Conservative election victory could presage the end of the Lisbon treaty, which has been under discussion since 2001.
Ireland, which rejected the text in a referendum, is planning to hold a second referendum this autumn. A Yes vote would clear the way for the treaty’s ratification, but European leaders know there is a race against time to get it approved before Britain’s general election.
Mr Cameron says his party is united in its approach to Europe, which includes breaking off its alliance in the European parliament with French and German centre-right parties.
However, Mr Brown has insisted that holding an early election is “the last thing” on his mind and opinion polls show that his governing Labour party still trails the Conservatives in the polls.
In his FT interview, Mr Cameron says that an incoming Tory administration would decisively shift economic policy, focusing on turning Britain into a nation of savers, and that he would progressively cut the size of the state.
The Tory leader believes the British public, faced with the prospect of spiralling government borrowing, will accept a smaller state.
Almost alone among leading mainstream politicians in Europe, he has been critical of a fiscal stimulus to stave off recession.
However, his old-style fiscal conservatism is offset by an almost French-style view that Britain should be a society that “works to live and doesn’t live to work”.
By George Parker FT – 13 January 2009
This article first appeared in the Financial Times