Britain has indicated that even if Ireland rejects the EU’s Lisbon treaty in today’s referendum it will ratify the pact. An unnamed senior EU diplomat was quoted as saying London had moved to reassure its European partners worried that a ‘no’ vote in Ireland would sink the treaty. .
Ireland is the only country required to hold a referendum on the pact, which is intended to streamline decision making in the bloc. There have been calls in the relatively eurosceptic UK for a similar vote.
The outcome, which won’t be known until Friday afternoon is expected to be very close. Politicians say the EU has no fallback position if the treaty is rejected, given it is already a replacement for the defunct constitution treaty which was killed off by Frenc and Dutch voters.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has led the ‘yes’ campaign. He has conceded the complexity of the pact has made it hard to sell. The government’s enjoyed the backing of the opposition and the all but one of the political parties. Unions and farmers groups have also urged a yes vote.
The ‘yes’ camp warns Ireland’s diplomatic clout and economy would suffer if they lose. Sinn Fein, the only party opposing the text, say it will undermine Ireland’s sovereignty and military neutrality.
The ‘no’ camp brings together disparate interest groups who have sought to play on these and other concerns, including immigration and abortion. Turnout out is likely to be a big factor.