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June 16, 2008

Ireland's No Vote: Harry Phibbs on how the No campaign won

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Most commentators expected Ireland to vote Yes in its referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Harry Phibbs give his analysis of how and why the No campaign won. The views expressed here are those of Harry Phibbs, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

Who would have thought it? Britain's beleaguered, eroded status as a self governing nation has been given new hope by the Irish. The hero of the hour is an Irish businessman called Declan Ganley who funded the No Campaign.

There is much indignation about how much political influence one rich individual can have and that it is undemocratic. But here is an example of it evening up the fight a little. The Yes campaign had all the main political parties on their side, the trade unions, most business organisations, the press, most of the funding.

The No campaign had Sinn Fein, of whom the less said the better; even the Green Party had been bought off with government posts. The No campaign also had Dana Scallon, the former Irish Euro MP noted for her success in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest when she crooned All Kinds of Everything of You. The most prominent force in the No Campaign was Libertas, the free market campaigning outfit funded by Ganley.

For his part Ganley is happy enough to rescue the rest of Europe from being ensnared in a superstate - although there can be no final victories in that regard. Just days after the referendum result Ganley came to London meet the British Eurosceptic grouping Open Europe. By way of encouragement to them he quoted Churchill on the eve of the Battle of Britain:

When daylight comes, comes in the light; ln front the sun climbs slow, how slowly, But westward, look, the land is bright.
So Ganley is no narrow little Irishman. His business interests mean he is very much a man of the world. He used to work in a London pub but has since found better remunerated work which means he can certainly afford it to dabble in politics. Estimates of his wealth have been put at 300 million. He won't say but admits he got 50m from the sale of his stake in Broadnet, a European cable company which was backed by US firm Comcast.

His success in business is, of course, indicative of the great strides made by the Celtic tiger. The Irish have discarded craven dependency on EU subsidies and have embraced the world as a magnet of wealth creation with low tax rates that have seen investment flooding in.

Faced with this economic competition other countries can either follow the example of lowering tax or seek to force the Irish to put up their taxes. No prizes for guessing the favoured option of the EU bureaucrats.

Libertas made a key issue in the referendum the right of Ireland to keep taxes low. Article 113 of the Lisbon Treaty specifically inserts a new obligation on the European Council to act to avoid "distortion of competition" in respect of indirect taxes. Libertas warned:

The proposals for a common consolidated tax base and the commitment of the French government to pursue it combined with a weakening of Ireland's voice in Europe through the loss of a permanent Commissioner and halving of its voting weight represent a clear and present danger to our tax competitiveness.
Imposing tax hikes would not have been the only way that increased power for the EU could have thwarted Ireland's growing prosperity. Low regulation and a welcoming, cooperative approach to multinationals has also been important. But for the first time, under the Lisbon Treaty foreign direct investment would become an exclusive competence of the EU as part of its common commercial policy. Libertas told voters:
This means that the tools which have been used so successfully to attract tens of thousands of jobs to Ireland will become the sole preserve of the European Union and the Irish Government will have to seek permissions.
These were arguments that helped to push up the turnout as people realised it wasn't some esoteric theoretical matter they were deciding but one with implication for their livelihoods. Ultimately the central argument must be about democracy rather than economics. For those who disagree with the free market and would prefer more tax and regulation then let them state their case and secure the election of an Irish Government on a socialist programme - not have socialism imposed from outside.

On the other hand sometimes the EU might be seeking to impose a free market policy. In Britain the main reason for the government's programme of Post Office closures is the unelected European Commission's decision that the annual subsidy paid by the UK government to the Royal Mail must be limited to 150 million a year. This has been frozen and cannot even rise in line with inflation each year. Yet few who have campaigned against Post office closures have been aware of why the Government have been so intransigent. The EU should not be banning subsidies or imposing them - it should be a matter for national Governments.

If Ganley is the main hero of this referendum campaign let's also finish with an honourable mention for Dan Hannan, the Eurosceptic British Conservative MEP. While others were assuming a Yes vote was a forgone conclusion, he was pointing to what was happening beneath the surface in an article for The Spectator.

He then followed it up with advice on his Telegraph blog:

All right, here's my first post as a tipster. Go to Paddy Power and place a bet on Ireland voting against the Lisbon Treaty. At the time of blogging, Ireland's best known bookie is offering 72 on a "No" vote (16 on a "Yes").
If only I had got round to doing so I would have had even more reason to celebrate.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist and a Conservative Councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham. The views expressed above are those of Harry Phibbs, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director. The Social Affairs Unit is not a party political organisation.

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