Ireland has voted No to the Lisbon Treaty, plunging the European Union into a new crisis.
With results coming in from across the country, a final result of 52 per cent against and 48 per cent in favour of the treaty was rapidly hardening. A final declaration is not expected until after 4 pm.
The Lisbon Treaty, the reworked successor to the formal constitutional pact dumped by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005, officially needs the approval of all 27 EU member states. But only in Ireland has it been put to a popular vote, meaning today’s result may have far-reaching consequences for the entire bloc.
Barely two hours after the count began today, the No camp had already started celebrating, while senior Fianna Fail strategists privately and glumly conceded their defeat.
“Call it hubris,” said one senior figure, “people seem to have forgotten what Ireland was like before we received European funding. They seem to think that we created our success all by ourselves. They are wrong.”
The senior figure admitted that in spite of Brian Cowen’s assurance on the eve of voting that a rerun – as happened after the Irish rejected the Nice treaty in 2001 – would not occur, it was now much more likely.
“The other 26 countries will ratify and we will be told ‘Join us when you like lads’,” he said.
In a television interview last night, Francois Fillon, French Prime Minister, was clear about the effects of a No vote. “If the Irish people decide to reject the treaty of Lisbon, naturally, there will be no treaty of Lisbon,” he warned.
Commentators said that would be a disaster for Mr Cowen, the newly appointed Irish Prime Minister who has struggled to rally the Yes vote following a surprise last-minute surge in opinion poll support for the ‘no’ campaign in the past week.
The final turnout figure was not yet clear. Commentators and pundits had said that a low figure would help the No campaign, since their supporters were more committed and likely to cast their ballots.
Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty leaves the EU — whose leaders meet for a summit in Brussels next week — facing a new crisis like that which followed the 2005 rejection of the formal constitution. It also means that three million voters have effectively decided the fate of a bloc of almost 500 million people.
Ireland has caused upsets in EU referendums before. In 2001, its voters rejected the Nice Treaty, a result overturned in a second poll the following year.