Backlash at Cameron over Euro referendum

Conservative leader under fire from his party – and from UK's European allies

David Cameron suffered a backlash at home and abroad yesterday as his new policy on Europe upset Tory Eurosceptics and some of Britain's European Union partners.

Two Tory MEPs resigned from their front-bench posts in the European Parliament in protest at Mr Cameron's decision to rule out a referendum on Europe for at least five years.

At Westminster, some Tory MPs expressed alarm at the party's "softly, softly" approach. They fear that a Cameron government would have little or no chance of winning back powers from Brussels over employment rights, criminal justice and ensuring the supremacy of British courts over the European Court of Justice. "It looked good on day one. Now the dust has settled, it looks like we have been sold a pup," said one prominent Eurosceptic.

The Conservative Party's "Blue Blog" was inundated with protests about the change of policy, many of them hostile to Mr Cameron's decision to rule out a referendum now that the Treaty of Lisbon has been ratified by all 27 EU member states.

Mr Cameron was urged by pro-European Tories to expel Roger Helmer and Daniel Hannan from the party after they vowed to continue to campaign for a referendum and quit their posts in the Strasbourg parliament.

Dismissing the party's new line as "essentially cosmetic," Mr Helmer said: "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 can neither justify nor support our new EU policy."

Mr Hannan said he would campaign for "a broad movement within the Conservative Party that will push for referendums, citizens' initiatives and the rest of the paraphernalia of direct democracy".

Some of Britain's European Union partners dismissed the prospect of a Tory Government repatriating powers from Brussels.

Pierre Lellouche, France's Minister for Europe warned that Britain would risk isolation if it made such demands.

"It is out of the question to reopen negotiations on the [Lisbon] treaty," he said. "That would require agreement from the 26 other EU members and I don't think for a single minute that will be possible."

But he backed away from earlier suggestions that the Conservative Party was "autistic." He blamed a mis-translation for yesterday's furore.

Mr Lellouche said the term, which is colloquially used in French to refer to a stubborn person who does not listen, is a common term of political abuse in France.

"In French, the term autistic has been totally trivialised through overuse," said Franck Allisio, his spokesman. "

President Sarkozy is called autistic every day. I understand that in English that this word could shock. That was a glitch. It was a misunderstanding."