Prime Minister Gordon Brown's decision to reject a referendum on
the new European Union Reform Treaty (Treaty of Lisbon) should be
viewed as one of the biggest acts of political betrayal in modern
British history. Despite a rebellion by 29 of its own backbenchers,
the Labour-led government defeated a Conservative proposal to hold
a popular vote on the Lisbon Treaty by 311 votes to 248 in the
House of Commons on March 5. Brown's refusal to support a
referendum represented a stunning reversal of the government's 2005
manifesto pledge to hold a plebiscite on the European
The Commons vote flew in the face of fierce public opposition to
the Lisbon Treaty and mounting calls for the British public to have
its say. In a series of unofficial mini-referenda held across
several marginal seats in early March, 89 percent of the more than
150,000 voters who took part voted against the treaty, with just 8
percent in favor. These votes reflected consistently high
levels of opposition to the treaty in virtually all major polls on
the issue in the U.K. in the past few months.
Most British voters have already concluded that the Lisbon
Treaty is almost identical to the old European Constitution, which
was emphatically rejected by electorates in France and Holland in
2005. If ratified in all European capitals, the treaty will come
into force in January 2009, and the implications for the future of
Europe are immense. So far, only the Irish government has been
brave enough to stand up to Brussels and insist on a popular vote
by its citizens.
The new Treaty poses the biggest threat to national sovereignty
in Europe since the Second World War, would threaten the future of
the Anglo-American Special Relationship, and would significantly
weaken the transatlantic alliance.
A Blueprint for a European
Like the rejected constitution, the new Reform Treaty is also a
blueprint for a European superstate dreamt up by unelected
bureaucrats in Brussels. This time around, however, most of Europe
doesn't get to vote, as democracy is too dangerous a concept for
the architects of this grand vision of an EU superpower.
Originally envisioned as a single market within Europe, the EU
(formerly European Economic Community) is morphing into a gigantic
political entity with ambitions of becoming the world's first
supranational superstate. Already, major strides have been made in
the development of a unified European foreign and security policy
as well as a supranational legal structure. With the introduction
of the euro in 1999, the European single currency and European
Central Bank became a reality.
Drafted in 2004, the European Constitution was a huge step
forward in the evolution of what is commonly known as the "European
Project," or the drive toward "ever closer union." With its 448
articles, the constitution was a vast vanity project, conceived in
Paris, Berlin, and Brussels, that dramatically crashed to Earth
three years ago. Since then, European Union apparatchiks have
worked feverishly to resurrect the constitution, coming up with a
cosmetic makeover that would make a plastic surgeon proud.
The new treaty contains all the main elements of the
constitution, repackaged in flowery language. According to the
European Scrutiny Committee, a British parliamentary body, only two
of the treaty's 440 provisions were not contained in the original
The Reform Treaty paves the way for the creation of a European
Union foreign minister (high representative) at the head of an EU
foreign service (with its own diplomatic corps) as well as a
long-term EU president; both positions are trappings of a fledgling
superstate. As European Parliament member Daniel Hannan has pointed
out, the treaty will further erode the legal sovereignty of
European nation-states, entrenching a pan-European magistracy
("Eurojust"), a European Public Prosecutor, a federal EU police
force ("Europol"), and an EU criminal code ("corpus juris"). In
addition, countries such as Britain will sacrifice their veto right
over EU decision-making in 40 policy areas.
A Democratic Deficit
Europe doesn't need a constitution. The European Union is not
the United States of Europe. The EU is a grouping of 27 independent
nation-states, each with its own culture, language, heritage, and
national interests. The EU works best as a single economic market
that facilitates the free movement of goods, services, and people.
It is far less successful as a political entity that tries to force
its member states to conform to an artificial common identity.
The European Constitution and its successor treaty are all about
the centralization of political power in the hands of a gilded
ruling elite in Brussels, not the protection of individual liberty.
They are also based on the principle that sovereignty should be
pooled by nation-states for the "greater good" of Europe, a concept
that goes against the grain of modern history, as witnessed with
the break-up of the old Soviet Empire.
The notion that the people of Europe should not have a vote on a
treaty with huge implications for the future of the continent
demonstrates the utter contempt that the Brussels bureaucracy has
for the average man or woman on the street. There is no doubt that
if the treaty were put to a popular vote, the electorates of
several countries would reject it. The whole "European Project" is
fundamentally undemocratic, unaccountable, and opaque. If subjected
to referenda across the EU, it would almost certainly be consigned
to the dustbin of history.
A Threat to the Special
For both sides of the Atlantic, the Lisbon Treaty is bad news.
The treaty poses a massive threat to the future of the
Anglo-American Special Relationship as well as the broader
transatlantic alliance. It will further entrench Europe's Common
Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and
Defense Policy (ESDP), both major threats to the future of NATO,
and will seriously impair the ability of America's allies in Europe
to stand alongside the United States where and when they choose to
An America without Britain alongside it would be far more
isolated and friendless and significantly less able to project
power on the world stage. For Washington, there is no real
alternative to the Special Relationship. Its collapse would be
damaging to America's standing as a global power and would
significantly weaken her leadership of the war against Islamist
A Future British Government Must Hold
The next British government, which must be elected by 2010 at
the latest, should listen to the growing calls of the British
people for a vote on the Lisbon Treaty. The public should have the
final say on an agreement that will dramatically undermine the
U.K.'s ability to shape her own destiny. If, as is highly likely,
the public rejects the treaty, Britain should withdraw from its
provisions and seek a broader renegotiation of its relationship
with the European Union.
The next Prime Minister, if Brown is replaced, should heed the
words of Lady Thatcher, who wrote in her seminal book
Statecraft: "That such an unnecessary and irrational project
as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem
in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern
era." The Iron Lady's instincts are right: Common
sense must prevail, and the British people should have the freedom
to reject an Orwellian vision of Europe's future in favor of the
principles of sovereignty and freedom.
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is
the Director of, and Sally
McNamara is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in, the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The
Heritage Foundation. Erica Munkwitz assisted with research for this
Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft: Strategies
for a Changing World (London: HarperCollins, 2002), p.