Three cheers for the Irish

WAS it Cecil Rhodes or Kipling who said that to be born an Englishman was to draw first prize in the lottery of life? I grew up a free man in what was a free country.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

WAS it Cecil Rhodes or Kipling who said that to be born an Englishman was to draw first prize in the lottery of life? I grew up a free man in what was a free country. I wonder if we would say the same today.

We were justifiably proud of our history and our contribution to the world and optimistic about the future. These past 10 years under a Labour Government have seen the greatest erosion of our liberties. One aspect of this has been the readiness to hand powers to Brussels that should be exercised by British government.

We therefore owe enormous thanks to those Irish voters that derailed the Treaty of Lisbon - the EU Constitution under another name - last Thursday. It is a clear message that, when citizens are given the chance to say whether they want a further massive transfer of power to Brussels, they say no.

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The British Prime Minister has been quick to point to opinion polls in his quest for 42-day detention powers, but was arrogantly dismissive of such polls when they showed overwhelming demand across the UK for a popular vote on the Treaty of Lisbon. It is to the abiding shame of this government that it reneged on an election promise to give the British people that referendum. It is an even greater betrayal that it is prepared further to diminish our sovereign powers as a nation by handing over more authority to the EU.

I have found it difficult to explain why government ministers, not necessarily lacking patriotism as individuals, should have been so complicit in this exercise. One part of the explanation is lack of engagement and therefore failure to understand the wider implications of their decisions.

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It came home to me watching Home Office minister Tony McNulty on Question Time last Thursday evening. He was previously the immigration minister and is now minister of state for security, counter terrorism, crime and policing. He came up with the lame explanation that the Treaty of Lisbon was necessary to make an enlarged EU of 27 states function more efficiently. Regardless of what we might think of this objective, he didn't seem to know that it was the previous Treaty of Nice that was specifically designed to do this. More to the point, he spoke of the EU as if it was something separate from the responsibilities of British Government Ministers.

When asked what would happen if the Irish rejected the Treaty, he said “that was a matter for the EU”- as if it was nothing to do with the British Government. Let us remember that, without the agreement of a succession of British Ministers in the drafting phase, and the signature of Gordon Brown on the final document, the Treaty of Lisbon would not exist. And now, British Ministers have to go to Brussels to decide what happens next. They can't escape their responsibility.

I expect they will join with their continental counterparts and agree to drive through much of what was in the Treaty through a series of separate decisions in the EU Council of Ministers. That would demonstrate real contempt for democracy.

Geoffrey Van Orden is Conservative MEP for the East of England focusing on Essex and Suffolk. He can be contacted at 88 Rectory Lane, Chelmsford CM1 1RF or by email at:

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