British court rejects legal bid concerning EU treaty

Britain's High Court rejected a lawsuit on Wednesday that sought to block the country's approval of an EU reform treaty.


London's High Court rejected Wednesday a legal bid to force the British government to hold a referendum on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty.

Businessman Stuart Wheeler, a backer of the opposition Conservative Party, launched the action on the basis that the governing Labour Party had promised a referendum on the EU draft constitution in its last election manifesto.

"The claim is dismissed," said Judge Stephen Richards.

Wheeler's lawyers applied for permission to appeal on the grounds of "serious and legal constitutional issues," but the judge refused the application.

The legal action has threatened to delay Britain's ratification of the EU reform treaty, the future of which was plunged into doubt by Ireland's "no" vote on the treaty in its June 12 referendum.

In the judgment the court ruled: "We are satisfied that the claim lacks substantive merit and should be dismissed."

"Even if we had taken a different view of the substance of the case in the exercise of the court's discretion, we would have declined to grant any relief, having regard in particular to the fact that parliament has addressed the question," it added.

In an unexpected turn of events, a judge last week asked the government to delay its almost-complete ratification of the treaty until he ruled on Wheeler's challenge.

The Lisbon Treaty Bill was given Royal Assent last week after being approved by both houses of Parliament, despite protests led by the Conservative Party, which called for a referendum.

But the ultimate step in the ratification process would come when Britain deposits its "instruments of ratification" in Rome -- home of the Rome Treaty of 1957 which set the cornerstone of what is today the European Union.

Britain's Europe Minister Jim Murphy welcomed the ruling.

"I am pleased that the judges have come down very clearly on the side of the government and found that this claim 'lacks substantive merit and should be dismissed'," he said in a statement.

"The judges have confirmed the government's position that the Lisbon Treaty differs in both form and substance from the defunct Constitution.

"The judges have also made a number of important points about the boundaries between parliament, government and the courts.

"With parliament's approval the government is proceeding to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, which is in our national interest and is a good treaty for the UK."

Despite the court's refusal to allow an appeal, Wheeler said afterwards that he had "high hopes of winning on appeal".

But judge Richards said: "We are satisfied that an appeal has no prospect of success.

"Whilst the issues raised are interesting and important, that is outweighed by the desirability of certainty and the avoidance of unnecessary delay in this matter.

"There is no other compelling reason why an appeal should be heard."

Eurosceptics claim that the Lisbon Treaty, which replaced the draft constitution after its rejection by French and Dutch voters in 2005, is virtually the same document, and therefore requires a public vote.

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