The result of the second referendum in Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty, held at the beginning of October 2009, was that there was a majority in favour of it of 67% to 33%, compared to the result in June 2008 when 54% were against and 46% in favour. Two key things need to be said about this latest result. The first is that this was no ringing endorsement of the terms of the Lisbon Treaty itself, whose wording was exactly the same as it had been the previous year. Any assurances on key issues which were provided by the EU to Ireland do not have the same legal force as the Treaty itself and may well not stand the test of time. In so far as the electorate had a chance to make up its own mind as to what it wanted, the main motivation for the swing in favour of a yes vote between the two referendums seems to have been fear of the economic and political consequences of another no vote. The second factor, however, which very probably played an even larger role than the first, was the almost unbelievably unfair way in which the referendum was allowed to be conducted.
The way the result of the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was achieved was a total disgrace. There was absolutely no pretence that the issues involved would be presented to the electorate in a fair way. Huge sums of money were made available to the pro Lisbon camp, which spent at least ten times as much on campaigning as those advocating a 'no' vote. Much of the money came from the EU Commission and the Irish government, neither of which had any business whatever spending tax payer's money in this way. Large payments from companies such as 250,000 euros from Ryanair and apparently twice as much from Intel appear to have been contributed to curry favour with the Commission - in Ryanair's case to increase its chances of being allowed to buy Aer Lingus and in Intel's to head off an investigation into market rigging in the computer industry. A sorry array of judges, civil servants and members of the Commission, all of whom should have been independent, weighed in on the pro-Lisbon side. By no conceivable standard was the referendum conducted fairly. On the contrary, it was a travesty of democracy, unfortunately all too typical of the contempt which the EU's record shows it has for its electorates.
The EU establishment may have secured the result which it desperately wanted from the second Irish referendum but it bought its victory at a very high cost in terms of its credibility and good standing. The original intention behind the EU Constitution which was rejected in France and Holland in 2005 and then repackaged as the Lisbon Treaty, was to increase the democratic accountability of the EU and to bring its institutions closer to the people as the Laeken Declaration, from which both the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty sprang, made absolutely clear. In fact, however, the process of responding to the Laeken Declaration was highjacked by the Commission and the European Parliament so that exactly the opposite result was achieved to the one which was originally intended. Instead of increasing the responsiveness of the EU elite to the electorates to whom they are supposed to be responsible, more powers are to be centralised in Brussels. In place of more democracy there is less, as more and more key decision taking is done by Commission officials and unelected central bankers and judges. Increased powers to the European Parliament, which cannot make or break the way the EU is governed - the key characteristic of all genuine parliaments - are no substitute for real accountability. More power is to be taken away from national control and ceded to the EU in a huge number of areas including such critically important matters for any nation state as diplomatic and military affairs. The veto is to go in the way justice and social affairs are administered and in a wide range of other areas including transport, public health, sport, energy, asylum and immigration, space and science policy and even the annual budget. This is not what the people of Europe want, as they have repeatedly shown when given a fair chance to express their views. But this is what they are going to get.
As a result of the Irish referendum result, the Poles have reluctantly signed up to the Lisbon Treaty There still may be a problem in Germany in terms of the way that EU majority voting is dealt with by the German parliament, but this does not involve rejecting the Treaty as such. The one major remaining hurdle was the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, who could see all too clearly what the damaging consequences both to his own country and to the EU as a whole might be, but he took the view, in the end, that he could not stand out on his own against implementation of the Treaty. It therefore appears that it is all to go ahead. The EU President and - in all but name - its Foreign Secretary, will shortly be appointed. Further moves to creating a federal but bureaucratically run United States of Europe, which so many European political leaders want to see developing but which the majority of people in Europe, especially in the UK, have never wanted, will now proceed. As one of the key features of the Lisbon Treaty is a clause which enables further changes to the way the EU is run to be implemented without recourse to the need for any democratic endorsement, no more referendums will need to be held. The Lisbon Treaty may well turn out to be the capstone from which - for those still in the EU - there will be no turning back.
The UK was promised a referendum on the EU Constitution, which is almost completely identical in substance to the Lisbon Treaty, by all the major political parties prior to the general election held in 2005. There is some evidence that, without this commitment, Labour might not have achieved the overall majority which in fact it managed to attain. This perception is reinforced by polling evidence which continues to show massive majorities in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty being held, to allow the electorate to express its view on whether it should be endorsed by Britain or not. Since 2005, both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have refused to accept that the promised referendum should take place on the flimsiest of grounds, which is that the promise given related to the Constitution and not the Lisbon Treaty, even though they are almost exactly the same. This leaves the Conservatives who have always been in favour of a referendum but who do not at present have a majority in the House of Commons. While the next general election is very unlikely to be held until May or June 2010, and much can happen between now and then, it is at least possible that the Conservatives will be elected with a working majority. By then, however, the Lisbon Treaty will have been agreed in one way or another by every EU Member State and will have been in course of implementation for several months. What will happen then?
The fact that by the time the Conservatives come to power - if they do -the Lisbon Treaty will have been in effect for some considerable period of time makes it difficult to see how holding a referendum on the Treaty some time during 2010 would make much sense. It is very likely, however, that a Conservative administration would reflect much more accurately the eurosceptic views of the country as a whole than the Labour Party has done, and the Conservatives have already declared their intention of pressing for a number of powers over matters such as employment law and social policies to be repatriated from Brussels to the UK parliament. The problem is to see how they could achieve these objectives within the present EU framework. There would have to be qualified majorities among all Member States in favour of such changes and it is extremely difficult to see how these could be achieved. It may, therefore, very well be the case that the Conservatives, as so many governments in varying degrees have done before, will gain power promising changes to our arrangements with other EU Members which in practice they will find that they are unable to deliver.
The consequences of British governments yet again showing themselves incapable of getting changes made to the way that the UK meshes in with the aspirations and direction of travel of the rest of the EU may be far-reaching. It is, of course, possible that matters will continue substantially as they are, with the UK electorate very probably becoming still more disenchanted with the EU but with no effective way of achieving any changes to the relationships we have with the other Member States. This is largely the position we have been in for the last three decades. It may, however, be the case that events will take a different course. The increasingly burdensome financial net contributions which we will have to make to the EU over the coming years are likely to be more and more heavily resented, especially if the British economy goes through a long fallow period. Frustration may build up still further as promised reforms to the extremely expensive and damaging Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy fail to materialise. There are potentially explosive issues on internal migration within the EU and on immigration from outside it. There are mounting concerns about regulations emanating from Brussels, more particularly if some of them appear to be designed to damage UK interests and to promote those competing with them in other EU countries. If public opinion develops strongly enough along these lines, and if the other Member States are not prepared to agree to any substantial changes, then the more fundamental question of whether we really ought to be part of the EU at all may raise its head. If it does, the way in which the referendum result in October 2009 in Ireland was achieved may well be seen as a milestone along the road.