There is a simple explanation for why there is to be a second referendum in Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty on 2nd October 2009. The powers that be in the EU did not obtain the result they wanted in the first referendum, held in 2008. Instead of accepting the democratic decision of the Irish people, as they should have done, they have resorted yet again to the well established EU tactic of insisting on a further vote being held until the result they wanted was achieved. If the Irish had voted in favour of the Treaty in 2008, would they have been given a chance to change their minds and vote against it in a second referendum? Of course they wouldn't. This contrast exposes all too clearly how utterly undemocratic the ways in which the EU operates really are. There is no genuine choice from the bottom up as to how the EU's affairs should be run. Instead, there is a top down conspiracy to drive through acceptance of whatever the EU political class wants, irrespective of clearly and democratically expressed views by those who have been asked to vote but who have had the temerity to vote the 'wrong' way.
In fact, of course, the first referendum vote on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland reflected all too accurately the views on the Treaty held by electorates across large sections of the EU. The Lisbon Treaty is almost identical to the proposed EU Constitution which was voted down by substantial majorities in France and Holland in the spring of 2005. Opinion polls in most other EU countries showed that if the Constitution - and subsequently its offspring, the Lisbon Treaty, which had almost exactly the same content but a different name - had been put to electoral tests in most other EU countries, it would have met the same fate. The Constitution had to be abandoned after the French and Dutch referendum results and, in the light of this experience, plans to have the Lisbon Treaty endorsed by referendums - to provide it with some democratic legitimacy - were quickly abandoned as it became clear that the likely response was going to be more 'no' votes. Instead, compliant national parliaments were obliged to endorse the Treaty, although in most cases they had no mandate to do so. Unfortunately for the EU, however, the Irish were obliged, as a result of a legal test case, to hold a referendum. Even despite the many financial benefits which Ireland has received from the EU - in stark contrast to the British experience - there was still a 'no' vote. Nothing could bear out more clearly just how unpopular the Lisbon Treaty and all the paraphernalia of further EU integration it contains, really is.
The situation in Britain on the Lisbon Treaty is as bad, if not worse, than it is anywhere else in the EU. All three of the major UK political parties promised that there would be a referendum on the proposals in the Constitution, allowing the UK electorate to state whether it supported its adoption or not. When the Constitution was rejected by the French and Dutch, the same proposals re-emerged in the Lisbon Treaty with all but a few insignificant details changed. Everyone could see that the promise to hold a referendum on the Constitution ought to have applied to the Lisbon Treaty. It was also, however, equally clear, that a referendum would have produced a 'no' vote. In these circumstances all the major political parties welshed on their commitments to hold a referendum, doing nothing in the process to diminish the disrepute in which politicians are held in the UK. Meanwhile, poll after poll shows large majorities both in favour of a referendum being held in Britain before the Lisbon Treaty is adopted and a settled determination to reject it if one ever takes place.
Why - in the face of so much opposition - are politicians across the EU so determined to force through a Treaty which has so little support? The reason is that the Lisbon Treaty is all part of the momentum towards creating a United States of Europe to which the majority of the EU political class aspire. The fact that almost every time there is any electoral test as to whether this is what the EU electorates want, they vote against it, is an inconvenient matter which they feel justified in ignoring because they believe that they know better than the voters what is good for them. This is the root of the democratic deficit which the EU so manifestly displays. The central thrust of EU policy - further integration - is not supported by the voters whose decisions - on the rare occasions when they are allowed to make them - almost always reject it.
What is the outcome likely to be on 2nd October 2009 when the second Irish referendum is held? Much effort has been made by EU organisations and their supporters to reassure the Irish that the concerns which led many voters to reject the Treaty in the previous referendum have been addressed. The reality, however, is that not a word of the Treaty has been altered, not least because the problems of getting everyone else to agree to a revised text are insuperable. The referendum is therefore being held on exactly the same document as it was last time, buttressed only by some honey worded but non-legally binding assurances. Will the weight of propaganda behind the pro-camp sway the day to produce the result which the EU wants? Maybe, but it is far from certain. Large numbers of voters are still undecided and there was a strong last minute swing towards a 'no' vote last time. There is a substantial possibility of another rejection.
If the Irish voters reject the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum, the effect on the way in which the EU operates on a day to day basis would probably not change much. After all, the EU has managed without either the Constitution or the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty for the last few years. The psychological impact of a second rejection, however, would be very substantial, throwing into doubt the legitimacy of the central planks of EU policy. If Ireland, which has benefited more than almost any other country in the EU from massive financial subventions and policies orientated in their favour, has the courage to reject the Lisbon Treaty a second time, the gap between what EU political leaders are trying to achieve and what their electorates want would clearly be gapingly wide. It is shameful that there have not been opportunities across the EU for people to express their views in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Although the Irish represent little more than 1% of all EU citizens, it is they who have the opportunity to express clearly the views held by a large majority of the rest of the EU voters who have been denied any opportunity to do so.
If there is a 'yes' vote on 2nd October 2009, however, there is little doubt that the remaining obstacles to getting the Lisbon Treaty ratified in one way or another by all the EU Member States will be overcome. While the Czechs and the Poles have both held up ratification until the outcome of the Irish referendum is known, they are unlikely to maintain their reservations if there is a 'yes' vote in Ireland. Similarly, the constitutional issues raised by the Lisbon Treaty which are currently under review in Germany would probably get resolved. If all this happened, however undemocratic the process by which it was achieved, there is little doubt that those favouring the centralisation of power in the EU, at the expense of both the nation states making up the EU and the wishes of their electorates, would regard the achievement of a 'yes' vote in Ireland as a major achievement. There is then every prospect that, building on this foundation, further steps would be taken to consolidate power in Brussels. The Commission would get stronger, as would all the other EU institutions. The ability of all Member States to run their affairs as they thought appropriate would correspondingly weaken.
These developments will bring in train major problems for Britain. If Ireland votes in favour of the Lisbon Treaty at the beginning of October 2009, there is every likelihood that the ratification process will be completed across the EU before the next UK general election is held, probably as late as June 2010. Reversing a decision to support the Lisbon Treaty which, by then, will have been taken by all EU Member States will be much more difficult than stopping it being adopted in the first place. The stakes are particularly high for Britain because, compared with all other Member States, we are in the EU on such disadvantageous terms. The financial cost to the UK of membership is already high and is increasing fast. The most recent Office for National Statistics figures show that in 2008 our contribution was 16.4 billion pounds - 45 million pounds every day - gross and 6.6 billion pounds net and on a strong rising trend. Indeed, the Treasury has just issued a paper stating that our net contribution will rise by almost 60% in 2010/11 alone. The UK has major concerns about both the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policies, neither of which are shared by a sufficient number of other Member States for there to be any realistic prospect of major reform. While obviously there are many policy areas where we have a common interest with our European neighbours, there are a number of others where we do not, not least over defence, trade, various aspects of foreign affairs and regulation particularly - currently - to do with the City. The problem is that the more that closer integration in the EU proceeds, the more difficult it becomes for any of these problems to addressed. Outvoted by other Member States on all these issues, as will almost inevitably be the case, there is nothing effective that Britain can do. A great deal therefore rides on the Irish referendum result for Britain. If there is a 'no' vote, then the trend towards the increased centralisation of power in the EU, which almost no-one in Britain really wants, will at least be significantly checked. If, on the other hand, there is a 'yes' vote, the EU juggernaut will be a great deal more difficult to contain and Britain's capacity to obtain any redress on the aspects of our relationship with the EU which give us most concern will be further diminished, as will be the role of parliament and our ability to govern ourselves. Where this might eventually lead is hard to say. The stakes are very high.