07 March 2008

British People are denied a Lisbon Referendum

Calls for a British Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty have increased over the past couple of weeks.
Despite the UK government's clear refusal to even entertain the idea, and the defeat of a Conservative motion - calling for a referendum on the new treaty - in the British House of Commons, the voices from outside parliament demanding a direct say in the matter are getting louder.

Even though the governing Labour Party promised voters a referendum on the European Constitution in their last general election manifesto, Prime Minister Gordon Brown (left) and his ministers now argue that the Lisbon Treaty is "an entirely new document" which has apparently nothing to do with the Constitution that was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005 (thus saving the UK from holding their own referendum, as any new EU Treaty needs to be accepted by all member states).

On the opposition benches the views on the Lisbon Treaty are divided. The Conservative Party has been calling and arguing for a referendum since the document was signed by all EU leaders in the Portuguese capital last December. Several nationalist and independent MPs also support the call for a British referendum.

Surprisingly, the Liberal Democrats are split over the issue. While the party leader Nick Clegg (right) asked his 63 MPs not to vote on the Conservative motion and abstain, only 50 followed their young leader. 13 LibDem MPs defied the order and voted with the Conservatives. Three of them - Alistair Carmichael, Tim Farron and David Heath - even resigned as front-bench spokesmen so they could vote in favour of the motion. This is no mean feat, and it only shows how deep the emotions over the Lisbon Treaty go in Britain as well. In a later, separate vote on a referendum, proposed by Labour MP Ian Davidson, 14 LibDems rebelled and in total 15 of their MPs ignored the call to abstain.

Many observers see this as the first test of the leadership qualities of Nick Clegg, who was elected as his party's new leader less than three months ago. He has his own agenda on Europe and wants a wider referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union or not.

Despite so many opposition calls for a referendum - also strongly supported by the Euro-skeptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), which has no MPs but 12 MEPs - the people of Britain will not have their say on the matter after all. Despite the support from the rebel Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives' motion for a referendum was defeated by 311 votes to 248. By the time British voters can react to this open defiance of a public demand - the next general election - the matter will be dead and buried and the treaty will be long in effect, unless the people of Ireland vote NO. The Irish are indeed the only force left that could yet stop the EU juggernaut.

In a separate development, a privately organised opinion poll in ten marginal constituencies in the South of England asked voters if they were in favour of a referendum and how they would vote if there were one.
88% of those asked declared that they were in favour of a referendum, but once again the British government decided to ignore them. Perhaps the reason for that is the result to the second questions asked: 72.4% of those asked in the ten selected constituencies said they would reject the Lisbon Treaty.

It is probably not a completely representative poll, but it shows clearly a double tendency in Britain: People want more active and personal participation in major political decisions, and they are growing more Euro-skeptic almost by the day.
Sadly, the British political system only pretends to be democratic, while it is not. So the Irish will indeed be the only people who can make a difference in the matter and show the politicians at home and in Europe that democracy still means "government of the people".

The Emerald Islander

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