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The Sophistry of Richard Corbett

Tuesday, 11th March 2008

During the parliament's February Strasbourg session, we voted the Corbett report on the Lisbon Treaty (aka the Renamed EU Constitution). There was an amendment that simply said "This house will recognise the outcome of the Irish Referendum" (which takes place soon). The amendment was overwhelmingly voted down. (OK. I put my hand up. I abstained. It was simply an error, and I greatly regret it).

In a meeting of the Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday, we were discussing the poor turnout in Euro-elections, and the apparent voter disengagement from the European project. Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott pointed out that we could hardly expect Irish voters to engage with the EU when we had just voted against respecting the result of the Irish Referendum. Corbett was apoplectic, shouting "No we didn't" (I was shouting "Yes you did") and insisting on making a point of order in response. His explanation was about the most extraordinary piece of self-serving sophistry that I have heard in nearly nine years in the parliament (and I've heard a lot!).

We weren't voting to reject the outcome of the Irish referendum, he said. Not at all. We were merely voting not to put that wording into the text of the report. And why did we not want to put those words in the report? Why, said Corbett, because "It is self-evident that this parliament would respect the outcome of any national referendum -- not just Ireland".

I have rarely seen an MEP dig himself an elephant-trap, and fall into it quite so quickly. Self-evident, is it? The European parliament was quite happy to reject the Danish referendum on Maastricht (1992); the Irish Referendum on the Nice Treaty (2000); and most spectacularly the French and Dutch referendum results on the EU Constitution in 2005. Self-evident that we respect the result of national referenda, Richard? No. It's self-evident that we don't.

In my short intervention following Corbett, I reminded the Committee (how they hated it!) that while some 80% of MEPs had voted for the Corbett report supporting the Lisbon Treaty, a large-scale postal ballot in the UK with a stunning response rate (for a private referendum) of 36%+ had voted 89% against the Lisbon Treaty. The parliament will reject that as well. The Constitutional Affairs Committee is trying to read the tea-leaves to find why turnout is drifting down in European elections. They could start to solve the problem by listening to the people.