This (via the London Times) is disappointing, but not (alas) surprising:
The last hurdles for the Lisbon treaty — and to Tony Blair’s chance of becoming Europe’s first president — seemed to fall away yesterday when the Poles pledged to sign and the Czech President warned [British Conservative Party leader] David Cameron that it was “too late” for him to stop the document taking effect. Vaclav Klaus signalled that he would pass the treaty once it had been reassessed by the Czech Constitutional Court, a process which could take some weeks but is unlikely to last until May or June, when Mr Cameron hopes to take power and then hold a referendum.
With the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, also saying yesterday that he would ratify following the emphatic approval of the treaty by Ireland in its re-run referendum, it could come into force as soon as January 1.
EU leaders hope to decide upon both their new president and foreign minister, the position of High Representative also created by the treaty, at their summit in Brussels at the end of this month. The decisions could well be provisional, however, pending President Klaus’s final assent. The Czech Constitutional Court will announce in two weeks’ time a timetable for its latest inquiry, demanded by senators close to President Klaus and widely seen as a delaying tactic.
British Conservatives hoping that the mercurial Czech President will keep the treaty alive long enough for them to win power and call a British referendum seem likely to be disappointed.
To say that this presents a problem for David Cameron is an understatement. Britain has already ratified the treaty (Blair-Brown having used the shabbiest of pretenses to renege on an earlier promise to hold a referendum) and so will be trapped within its web as soon as it comes into force. The victorious Tories can hold a referendum if and when they are elected (June?) but a no-to-Lisbon vote will not (legally) be enough to extricate the U.K. from the treaty’s structure. All that such a vote can do is give David Cameron a mandate to try to renegotiate the U.K.’s position, a process in which Brussels and the other EU states are unlikely to co-operate, particularly as they know that Cameron has a weak hand to play — he can offer nothing and (at first glance) he can threaten nothing: Certainly there is no majority in the U.K. for British withdrawal from the EU, an awkward reality that Labour is also likely to exploit in the upcoming British election.
That said, Cameron should keep his commitment to a referendum. If nothing else, a referendum will almost certainly turn out to be (dread phrase) a “teachable moment” highlighting the contempt for nation and democracy that is the shared trademark of Blair, Brown, and the rest of the Brussels gang. As to what the consequences of that teachable moment might be, well, who knows, but it’s worth finding out . . .