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Stuart Wheeler: Don't vote for Tories without a referendum promise

Four years ago, two highly distinguished commentators – Patrick Minford, the well-known economist at Cardiff University, and Ian Milne of Global Britain and Global Vision – quite separately, and using different techniques, concluded that membership of the EU was at that time costing the people of this country about £40bn a year. That is about £3,000 a year for a family of four. And, if the Lisbon Treaty becomes law, that cost gets worse still.

By now, it is reckoned that the cost of regulation alone to the UK is £48bn, perhaps much more. And if Lisbon goes through there will be more integration, and regulation will get more and more expensive. So, we – or the British Government – have to withdraw our ratification of the treaty. This will only be possible if the Conservatives come to power before it is law. But it is highly likely that the European elections in June next year will take place before any new Irish referendum. So, we have to pin the Conservatives down to two highly specific promises they must make in their manifesto for the European elections. We must be sure that, when in power, they actually do call it. If, as I think very likely, there is a big majority against ratification that will have a huge effect on the political scene – including, of course, on the Irish.

Why? Because a year ago, the Conservatives were committed in their opposition to a referendum. But once Gordon was felled, I began to sense a certain wobbliness. So we kept up the pressure and the party has now said it will call a referendum if Lisbon has not been ratified when they come to power. But what if the treaty is already law?

All that the shadow Cabinet has been willing to say so far is that it will "not allow matters to rest there". That is nowhere near good enough. A number of my Eurosceptic friends and colleagues seem to think that the "grown-up" thing is to accept it. If that is grown-up I do not want to be a grown-up.

Tories should tell their MP, MEP or candidate that, unless two pledges are in the manifesto your support in the European elections will not go to the Tories and may well go elsewhere. Pledge one: a promise, with no weasel words, that if Lisbon is not law when they come to power, they will hold a referendum on whether to withdraw our ratification. Pledge two: a promise that if Lisbon is law when they come to power, there will be an immediate, massive renegotiation of our whole relationship with the EU, to be followed by a referendum on whether to accept the result.

It's that simple.

Stuart Wheeler, founder of the IG Index and a donor to the Conservative party, gave the James Goldsmith memorial lecture last night