Monday, 9 June 2008

Big week looms for treaty

Several major tests for the EU Constitution treaty culminate this week, making the next few days the treaty's final major hurdle to ratification.

Having on 22 April won the right to a judicial review on the government's abandonment of its manifesto pledge to hold a referendum, today and tomorrow Stuart Wheeler will return to the High Court to argue his case.

An important distinction that few are making in comments and reports about this case, fed by reports that House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin is intervening to combat the challenge, is that Mr Wheeler is not trying trying to overturn the will of Parliament.

His case is solely about the government, its public statements, and whether abandonment of a clear committment to a particular course of action is lawful on grounds of fair dealing with the public - a principle known as "legitimate expectation".

Judgement is not likely be given his week. The verdict on just leave to seek judicial review was deferred after the 22 April hearing and only given on 2 May. So we are unlikely to immediately know the outcome of the full hearing.

Even if Mr Wheeler wins his case, it will be technically possible for the government to still ignore the verdict. But it would be politically very hard for them to do so - to continue to pursue a course of action which a court has declared unlawful.

Full information about the case, including submissions made by both sides, is available on Stuart Wheeler's website. As is a Contributions Form, for those who wish support Mr Wheeler with what, if he loses, will be the considerable costs of this brave action.

As he says: "Although I am the person bringing the action it is, in effect, on behalf of all those of us – well over half the population – who want our say in a referendum."


Wednesday will see a key moment in progress of the Lisbon Treaty through Parliament, with a vote in the House of Lords on whether there should be a referendum.

Here, the behaviour of the Liberal Democrat peers will be pivotal to the chances of a referendum motion being passed. However, every indication is that the party's peers will vote with the government against a referendum.

Whether, in doing so, they are defying their leader's 'abstention' policy on the issue, or the Liberal Democrats as a whole have flip-flopped on the referendum question yet again, is a key question.

But in either case, the answer is not good news for the party or its increasingly hapless leader Nick Clegg.


Finally, on Thursday 12th, voters in Ireland will go to the polls to cast their verdict in the only referendum being held anywhere in the EU on the re-named EU Constitution treaty.

Polls indicate that this may prove the treaty's sternest test. On Friday an Irish Times survey showed a 17-point jump for the "no" side, putting it five percentage points ahead. Yesterday, a poll published in the Sunday Business Post put the pro-treaty camp in the lead, but only just - 42% to 39%.

A 'No' vote would certainly cause the EU some turmoil and place an (albeit no doubt temporary) obstacle in the treaty's path that we may be able to capitalise upon.

But as we know from bitter history, time and again the EU has refused to accept the outcome of democratic votes that go against its outdated quest to centralise ever more power. So a 'No' vote is very unlikely to be the end of the story.

No comments: