David Cameron was on a collision course with the Conservative Eurosceptic Right last night after he rejected demands for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty even if it is ratified by the rest of the European Union.
Tory chiefs, who are desperate to prevent Europe overshadowing the start of their conference in Manchester today, had privately appealed to senior Eurosceptics not to inflame tensions on the emotive subject.
But the toxic issue of Europe returned to haunt the party after Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, made a colourful plea for a national vote both on Lisbon and on Britain's membership of the European Union.
Daniel Hannan, the outspoken Euro MP, will also use a fringe meeting at the conference to demand a referendum on the treaty under all circumstances.
The Independent disclosed on Saturday that a poll of more than 2,000 Tory members by the ConservativeHome.com website found that more than 80 per cent want Mr Cameron to hold a referendum on the treaty even if it had been approved by the time of the election.
The issue gained urgency after the weekend's Irish referendum result brought the ratification of the Lisbon treaty a large step nearer. Only Poland and the Czech Republic are yet to ratify the treaty, which could lead to the appointment of Tony Blair as the EU's first president.
Mr Cameron repeatedly sidestepped challenges yesterday on how a Conservative government would act if all 27 EU members had backed the treaty, arguing that he did not want to pre-empt the discussions in Poland and the Czech Republic.
But the stance put him at odds with Mr Johnson, who appeared to demand a vote on the treaty under all circumstances. The Mayor, who will speak at the conference today, argued that the British "deserve a say" on the treaty. He said: "It would be right for such a debate to be held, particularly if the upshot of the Lisbon treaty is going to produce President Blair."
He also said a vote should be held on the question: "Are you in favour of remaining in the EU", although he stressed he would campaign for a "yes" vote. A spokesman for the Mayor denied last night that there was any rift with the Tory leadership and insisted his comments were in line with party policy.
But the divisions within the party were laid bare as the Eurosceptic Richard Shepherd said the referendum had to be held regardless of whether the treaty was already in force.
"We were committed to it and I believe that this is a matter of the deepest trust with the British people that we will honour that which we gave the commitment for," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend.
But Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, a former European commissioner and Conservative cabinet minister, said it would be "ludicrous" to try to unpick a treaty that had already been implemented. "I can't believe that a Conservative Party would, in government, want to have a referendum if the treaty is in force. I am sure wiser counsels will prevail."
In an interview on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Cameron said: "I don't want to say anything or do anything now that would undermine or prejudice what is happening in other countries where they are still debating whether to ratify this treaty. That is a very sensible thing to do."
He said: "I think people will understand this argument that while there are other countries actually delaying the implementation of this treaty, don't do anything or say anything that stops them from doing that."
Me, worth £30m? Don't be ridiculous
David Cameron dismissed as "absolutely ridiculous" suggestions that he and his wife, Samantha, pictured, were sitting on a personal fortune of £30m. The Tory leader was challenged over his wealth during an interview on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show yesterday. He replied that they owned a "very nice" home in west London and a "quite highly mortgaged" property in his Oxfordshire constituency.
He added: "We both earn good salaries. So we are definitely a well-off family."
When the £30m figure was put to him, he said: "That figure is absolutely ridiculous." He refused to be more specific, telling Marr: "You can look through all my bank statements." Mr Cameron, whose father was a stockbroker, grew up in affluence in Berkshire and was sent to Eton College. His wife is the eldest daughter of the baronet Sir Reginald Sheffield. Mr Cameron also confessed to Marr that he was "deeply embarrassed" by his membership of the Bullingdon Club, the Oxford drinking society.
The Europe question How Cameron dodged it
Andrew Marr: It is now overwhelmingly likely that by the time you come to power, if you do in the spring, the Lisbon Treaty will have been ratified. So what are you going to do then?
David Cameron: Well, we want to have a referendum. I mean, I think people in this country will be frustrated and angry that Ireland has been able to vote twice on a treaty that changes the way we're governed, and yet we haven't been able to vote once.
AM: So even if it has been formally ratified you will hold a referendum?
DC: As long as this treaty hasn't been ratified everywhere in Europe, then we will pledge to hold that referendum.
AM: You're not answering the obvious and direct and likely question, which is: once it's ratified what then? And I put it to you that you're not answering it because you don't know what to do.
DC: No, there's a very good reason for saying what we're saying, which is that I don't want to say anything or do anything now that would undermine or prejudice what is happening in other countries where they're still debating whether to ratify this treaty.
AM: The Czechs are now suggesting it will be ratified by Christmas.
DC: Well, the Czech Prime Minister talked about three to six months, and obviously if it's six months that takes you pretty much up to the General Election in this country, and we'll be able to have that referendum.
AM: If you want to have a referendum, have a referendum.
DC: I've set out exactly what we're going to do, and if those circumstances change I'll happily come back on your programme and explain what we'll do.
AM: If you said you were going to have a referendum, that would delay the treaty being ratified. It's certainly not going to speed it up. So why the silence? I just don't understand.
DC: I can set the answer to music if you like. I think people will understand that you don't want to prejudice or undermine people who currently have said, 'We're going through our own ratification process'. I think people at home will also be wondering, 'Well, are they going to ask [him] questions about anything else?'.Reuse content