The next referendum twist, for the Brits this time

Another twist I’ve just noticed in the Great Referendum Saga. It could take up to two years for the Irish to decide to hold another referendum or whatever, leaving the Lisbon Treaty unratified by the EU as a whole for all that time. In the meantime, a UK general election could well bring the Conservatives to power, leaving Cameron holding a very unwelcome European baby. For at that point, the whole idea of a British referendum would spring to life for the first time in the real world, to the glee of the euro-sceptics. Here is former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind speaking in the Commons after the Irish “No” vote, with William Hague on the front bench nodding agreement:

If the Irish Government were to propose holding a second referendum at some future date, it would, at the very least, mean a major delay before final implementation of the new treaty; that would be an unavoidable consequence of the Irish saying that they wished to hold a second referendum. It would be perhaps another year, a year and a half, or even two years before all countries could ratify. Before then, there will almost certainly be a United Kingdom general election. If that led to a change of Government, one consequence would be that even if the treaty had been ratified in the United Kingdom, if it had not come into effect because an Irish referendum had not yet taken place, an incoming Conservative Government could reopen the whole issue by calling a referendum. That was not true until last week. Even if we had ratified, we could de-ratify if the treaty had not yet come into effect.

That is a profound consequence of what happened last week.

In other words, a Conservative government could reverse Gordon Brown’s ratification. Can we imagine the Irish leading with one referendum and the British following with another – with different results, maybe? It’s quite a thought.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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