Ireland, the only EU country to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (the renamed EU Constitution) has voted NO, by a substantial majority. Despite huge resources given to the Yes Campaign by the EU, despite (or perhaps because of) a steady stream of the good and the great from Brussels and other EU capitals coming to Ireland, despite the threats of dire consequences if Ireland did not toe the EU’s Party Line, the voters of Ireland have taken a stand against further EU integration.
The original EU Constitution was voted down in France and Holland in 2005. Rather than accept defeat, the EU then repackaged the Constitution under a new name, the Lisbon Treaty, and started the ratification process over again. This time they were determined not to give the people a say, as they believed, rightly, that several countries would vote NO. In Britain, the Labour government refused the referendum they had promised in their election manifesto, on the lame excuse that the Treaty was different from the Constitution — despite statements from many EU leaders that the content was essentially the same. But Ireland’s national Constitution requires a referendum on constitutional changes, so Ireland became the only EU country to vote on the issue.
Ireland’s voters were concerned about a range of issues — the effect of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy on Ireland’s traditional neutrality, the effect of EU law on Ireland’s traditional Catholic values, the perceived threat to Irish agriculture, and the danger of pressure for tax harmonisation, which could have overturned Ireland’s highly competitive corporate tax rate. The Yes side had great difficulty in making a credible case. There is a general view that Ireland has done well out of Europe. But in that case, said the NO side, why do we need to change things?
I praise the courage of the Irish voters in standing up to the pressure and threats from Brussels. They have struck a blow for freedom and democracy, not only in Ireland but across the EU.
This is a victory for the people against the political machine. Our own government in Westminster must now review its decision on a referendum. The British people will not understand or accept the idea that the Irish can have their say, but the British cannot.
It is not clear what will happen next. When Ireland voted NO to Nice in 2001, they were told to vote again until they got the right answer, and they duly voted Yes in 2002. But after the rejection of the Constitution in 2005, it is difficult to see the EU seeking to overturn the people’s decision yet again. As I see it, the most likely outcome is that the EU institutions, aided and abetted by member-state governments, will introduce the main provisions of the Treaty piecemeal, without public consultation and without a legal basis. The problem with the EU, is that it just can’t take NO for an answer.