It is reasonably clear what the British people think about the Lisbon Treaty, which in the name of efficiency, transfers further powers from the Parliaments of the European nations to the European Union. They are against it. It is harder to know what the longer term consequences will be.
Public opinion has been tested by numerous opinion polls, all of which have shown a large majority opposed to the ratification of the Treaty and in favour of a referendum, which was promised by all three parties in their 2005 Election Manifestos. This has been followed by a referendum in ten marginal seats, held by a group called I Want a Referendum.
The total result of these ten local referendums was that 152,500 ballots were returned, giving a turnout of 36.2 per cent. 87.9 per cent wanted to have a national referendum, while 12.1 per cent were opposed. 88.8 per cent would vote “No” to the Treaty, if there were a referendum, while 7.9 per cent would vote “Yes”.
The parliamentary ratification took no notice of public opinion. The Labour Government rejected an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty Bill which would have called for a referendum. The Government’s majority in the House of Commons was 63, on a vote of 311 to 248. The Liberal Democrats had a three line whip calling on its Members to abstain; despite this, thirteen Lib Dem Members voted for a referendum because they had promised to support a referendum at the last election.
The Lisbon Treaty establishes Europe as a legal entity, creates a new President and Foreign Secretary, transfers some 60 powers from national veto to qualified majority voting, and creates a new Charter of Rights, with wide impact on European law. These are large steps towards taking the European Union from being a confederation to being a federation. The procedure which led to the Lisbon Treaty began with the Laeken Declaration in 2001, which called for an opposite constitutional development towards great subsidiarity and more democracy in Europe.
One can look on the Commons vote as reinforcing the dominance of the Eurofederalists in Britain, but that would be a mistake. For the first time there is a serious body of British opinion which sees the European Union, under the Lisbon Constitution, as seriously defective in terms of British law. Never before has there been a comparable commitment to ratify a Treaty subject to a referendum; never before has there been a failure to honour the referendum commitment. Britain does have another commitment to have a referendum before joining the Euro, but that has never been tested, because no Government has, so far, wanted to make Britain part of the Eurozone. Gordon Brown has reaffirmed his commitment to have a referendum on the Euro, but he cannot expect to be trusted.
We do not know what the ultimate consequences will be. Perhaps the British public will come to accept the Lisbon Treaty, particularly as it is a complex document which cannot easily be distinguished from other European constitutional provisions. My own view is that the Government has created a doubt in the public mind about the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty which is liable to spread to the whole constitution of the European Union itself. Certainly there will be a horse laugh, a whinny of disbelief, if – as President Sarkozy has suggested – the British Prime Minister who negotiated the Lisbon Treaty, Tony Blair, becomes the first President of Europe.
One cannot rule out a British Declaration of Independence. The Lisbon Treaty represents regulation without consent. If this is Eurofederalism, it is a bad mistake.
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