Shock horror! Scandal! Collusion! British officials have been conspiring with their Irish counterparts to help stitch up the referendum in Ireland on the Treaty of Lisbon, and a note about it has been leaked… Open Europe, Bruno Waterfield and Iain Dale have been getting in a lather about it. Of course none of those sceptics have bothered to report that a pro-Treaty MEP, Prionsias De Rossa, was assaulted at a public rally.
Let’s look at each of the issues in the note in turn. First of all, the date of the referendum. The Irish government can decide when that it is – and it of course is going to choose the date that is most convenient and get the result (Yes in this case) that it wants. Any factors that might hamper that have to be considered. Blair was paranoid about the timing of a referendum on the Euro in the UK, weighing up considerations of elections, parliament etc. – and this is no different. When politicians take decisions they use the powers they have – simple. Why is there any surprise at that in the slightest?
Then there’s the concern about the French Presidency. I don’t know anyone in the institutions in Brussels who isn’t at least a bit concerned about what might happen during Sarko’s 6 months at the helm. It might be good, it might be bad, but it’s going to be unpredictable. So why not hold the Irish referendum before then? It’s sensible.
As for the Commission keeping quiet – again, where is the problem? Is the UK government going to announce its most controversial tax policies a month before an election? Of course not, and no-one would possibly expect it to. It would be crazy to expect the Commission to not delay things, not criticise it for doing so.
OK, so the wording of the memo is loose and ill thought out in places, and the tone is damaging. But the total political content of all of this is negligible.
There’s a good analysis of this story from the Irish Election blog.