A British businessman is taking the UK government to court today over its refusal to hold a referendum on the EU Treaty. The move adds to the feeling of uncertainty about the EU’s future, with the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps neck-and-neck ahead of the Irish referendum on 12 June.
Millionaire Stuart Wheeler, 73, claims he had “a legitimate expectation” that Gordon Brown would hold a public vote. Former British PM Tony Blair had promised to hold a referendum on the now defunct EU Constitution, while his successor Gordon Brown has sent the Lisbon Treaty for ratification in Parliament.
Wheeler, who is a major Conservative Party donor, says the rejected Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty are the same in all but the name. Therefore he claims that the obligation to hold a referendum cannot be avoided by a simple name change. The Court decision is expected on June 10.
This schedule is crucial, considering that on June 11 the House of Lords is due to vote on a Conservative proposal to hold a popular referendum on the Treaty (EURACTIV 03/04/08). In March, the House of Commons voted against such an amendment, with MPs ultimately approving the Treaty by a majority 346 to 206 (EURACTIV 06/03/08).
The government says it is confident its case is strong. But opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of UK voters agree that the proposed ‘treaty’ is virtually the same as the previous ‘constitution’ and feel Blair’s promise should be honoured. Moreover, there have been several high profile examples of the courts ruling against the British government on controversial issues.