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Irish PM: 'No' would kill Lisbon

Mark Mardell | 08:22 UK time, Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Irish political establishment is, quite literally, lined up calling for a Yes vote in Thursday's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Three men who represent 80% of Irish voters stand behind three podiums to warn of the dangers of voting No.

Enda Kenny from Fine Gael says it would be "irresponsible and wrong" and Ireland would isolate itself. Labour's Eamon Gilmore declares that, with economic uncertainty ahead, "now is not the time for this country to throw a wobbly". The prime minister, Brian Cowen, who stood between them, said that a No vote would be a vote for uncertainty.

As the leaders posed afterwards for pictures their new-found friendship did not go so far as them agreeing to shake hands. Irish PM Brian Cowen

I asked Mr Cowen what a No vote would mean. He said there would be a "huge sense of disappointment" and "obviously we would not be able to proceed with ratification and the agreed reforms - and if you don't have the agreed reforms you don't have reforms".

So Lisbon would be dead? "Obviously, yes. Every country has to ratify and any one country that doesn't ratify means it can't come into effect."

I suspect they agree with him back at the commission in Brussels. They are braced for a No vote. If that happens, eyes will turn to Britain, to see if Gordon Brown declares ratification is off. That would pull the plug on Lisbon.Irish child with No sign

In any case, there is a strong feeling the Irish could not be asked to vote again and so the project, enshrined in the dead constitution, resurrected in Lisbon, would be dead. Well, dead-ish.

There would be no attempt to renegotiate a second reform treaty. No further tinkering with the text, no treaty of Prague or Stockholm to be signed next year.

What there would be is a dissection of the corpse. Some major parts of both Lisbon and the constitution would be sadly discarded. Plans to get rid of the veto for justice and home affairs, to have a stronger foreign policy , to have a president of the council and beefed-up high representative for foreign affairs, would probably be junked. Some would no doubt try to sneak back to the dustbin and save them for later use. But an Irish No kills aspirations like these, at least for a while.

Other bits of Lisbon, like the plan for EU embassies, or if you prefer, an external action service, don't need a treaty change, so they might happen anyway. The same goes for one of the issues in contention in this referendum - the size of the commission. Plans for a smaller commission were there in an undetailed way in the Nice Treaty and could also go ahead. Ironically, an Irish No would have the effect of bringing them forward by five years.

But perhaps the number of commissioners and the change in the weighting of votes could be adopted in an accession treaty when Croatia joins the EU in 2010 or 2011. It will be interesting to see if Ireland votes on that. But Ireland may still vote Yes: it is on a knife edge and I have changed my mind about the likely result back and forth in the last 24 hours.

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