Yes, the Irish caved in and reversed their vote against the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty.  Gutless?  Of course.  But I’ve spent too many years in Dublin and Cork to be surprised.  The Irish did the same thing when they voted no to an earlier treaty in June 2001.  The next year they gave in to bullying from Brussels and returned to the polling stations to vote yes.  If you are looking for some Fighting Irish, you won’t find them in Ireland.

As I write this, the European Union is within one signature of the treaty being ratified and established as a European constitution.  The treaty will for the first time make the European Union a “legal personality” or, as the headline writers have it, “a country called Europe.”

This new country will have a president, a foreign secretary and diplomatic corps, armed forces, a supreme court, and a criminal-justice system.  It already has a parliament that is based on population and omits any representation of sovereign states: The European Union will not be a federal system.

Since the Irish voted yes all that has been standing in the way of this “European country” has been the refusal of Václav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, to sign the treaty.  He is utterly opposed to it.  Even after the Czech parliament ratified it, he insisted he must wait until a challenge to the treaty in his country’s supreme court was decided.  He also insisted the treaty raised the threat of new lawsuits by the families of Germans expelled from the Sudetenland.  He said he wanted to see this threat removed before he would sign.

Alas, after the Irish vote, no one was expecting that President Klaus could hold out for more than a few weeks.  The European Commission, the unelected politburo in which all European law originates, threatened that the Czech Republic could lose its commissioner if President Klaus continued to refuse to sign.

President Sarkozy of France and other European politicians made poisonous demands in personal phone calls, warning of “consequences” if President Klaus did not sign.  In the European parliament, one German socialist member demanded the Czechs impeach their president.  In Prague, the German ambassador actually went to see the president of the Czech supreme court to insist he hurry up his decision in the legal challenge to the treaty.

The reason for the pressure, and the reason for President Klaus’s willingness to endure it, has been this: David Cameron, the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, is likely to succeed Gordon Brown as prime minister following a general election in the spring.  Mr. Cameron has promised he will give the British people a referendum on the treaty if it is not yet in force when he takes office.

The Blair government broke its 2005 election promise to allow the British a referendum.  Instead, the government forced ratification of the treaty through parliament in 2008.  Millions of Britons were, and are, enraged by the betrayal.  So Mr. Cameron and the Conservative Party have already drafted a bill for a referendum.  They say they will present the bill to parliament as soon as they are in government—if the treaty is not yet in force.

No one in the European Union doubts that if the British have a chance to vote on the treaty, they will vote no.  Brussels and euro-enthusiasts across Europe are frantic to get the treaty in place before Mr. Cameron walks into Number 10.  Brussels knows that Britain, unlike Ireland, is too big to bully into voting twice.  Ratification must be unanimous, so the new constitution for Europe would be in the dustbin.  A British no would finish it.

However, many people suspect Mr. Cameron will be relieved if the treaty is in place when he takes office and he does not have to be the man who gave the British the chance to kill it.  As for what he will do if the treaty is in force when he succeeds Gordon Brown, all the Conservative leader will say is that he “will not let matters rest there.”  The phrase is meaningless.

I recently spoke to Martin Howe, a senior barrister who contributed to the drafting of the Conservatives’ bill for a referendum.  I asked him what he thought Mr. Cameron would do if the treaty has been ratified by all 27 member-states before the time of the next British general election.  Mr. Howe told me that, in that case, “legally it takes effect and supersedes earlier treaties.  Then it cannot be amended or revoked except by further treaty or an instrument equivalent to a treaty, such as a protocol.  Britain would need to get agreement of all other member-states for that.”

This is unlikely to happen.  Of course, there is another way Mr. Cameron could free Britain of the treaty.  He could follow procedures laid down in the treaty itself for withdrawal from the European Union.  This would take two years of negotiations, with terms having to be agreed upon by all the other member-states.  It is unlikely the other states would be willing to give good terms to Britain.  They would try to frighten the United Kingdom into staying.

The ploy would probably work.  Mr. Cameron is not the kind of man who has the courage to stand on the White Cliffs of Dover, fix his gaze on storm clouds rolling in from the Continent and declare, “Very well, then, alone.”  That kind of British Conservative died off long ago.