The result of the Irish referendum has been long expected, and as a result I think that most commentators had discounted its significance. In fact, I already detect some significant political shifts that are taking place.
Firstly there is no doubt that the "antis" are beginning to accept defeat. Even the bumptious and increasingly erratic Dan Hannan points out that a referendum on Lisbon alone makes very little sense. He argues that the referendum should be an in-or-out question and he will be campaigning to leave. So perhaps the first result of the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon will be greater clarity in the argument: the debate moves on from the abstruse language of treaties to a straight yes or no question. The problem for the "Better off out" supporters is that they have no realistic answer for the question of how Britain can benefit from going it alone in a world where being America's most loyal ally only elicits indifference- even from the US itself. As the post-1945 institutions begin to reform to reflect the relative decline of the USA, the big winners are the big powers: China, Brazil, India and indeed the European Union. A country of only 60 million with a sickly economy that is continuing a long term secular decline will have increasingly less control over its interests as a second rate power.
Eventually, as we always seem to, the United Kingdom despite indifference and hostility will belatedly decide to join the expanding European Project. Ever since the Messina conference the UK has allowed other member states to dictate the forms of Europe, pretended that they are not relevant and then had to play catch up. I suspect that this pattern has not been broken by our failure to adopt the Euro: in the end we will probably adopt the single currency in our own interests and indeed also opt-in to several pieces of legislation, such as the single arrest warrant and -hopefully- Schengen, that we are currently opted out of.
Does this mean that the "antis" are right and in fact their is a conspiracy to subvert the United Kingdom?
No, of course not, the fact is that greater economic and political co-operation amongst the European States is essential in certain spheres in order to protect our common economic and political interests in the face of American, Chinese or even Russian competition. Though the European Union is a flawed institution, if it did not exist something very much like it would be created. The emotional response that these right-wing Conservatives have towards the EU is often barely rational- and in a straight choice I am confident that the British electorate would vote- as they did in 1975- to remain a member.
The focus on the Treaty of Lisbon has distracted attention away from the real issues of economic reform and restructuring, and once British membership of the EU is confirmed I hope that there is renewed energy in the determination to reform not the structures of the organisation, but the conduct of business there.
The antis have already lost and, though they will continue their die-hard campaign, the fact is that the pendulum is already swing away from them. David Cameron knows that membership of the EU is only controversial with his own right wingers, and is therefore being quite astute to ignore their call for a referendum on Lisbon at all costs.
In the end the ratification if Lisbon is a game changer, and I believe that the British will take a pragmatic decision to make the best of it and get the EU to work better in the interests of the UK. I suspect that the power of the die-hard antis will decline- becoming an irrelevance even inside the Conservative Party. A different atmosphere is already discernible after the Irish vote and I suspect in the coming months the debate will gradually become less rancorous- I certainly hope so.