Ireland’s No – more power to the Paddies

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This morning I had breakfast with Neil O’Brien who runs a pressure group and think-tank called Open Europe – dedicated to opposing the onward march of European integration. Neil seemed rather depressed – and this was not just because he had spent the night ministering to the homeless on the banks of the Thames (although he had).

“The Irish have voted Yes”, he informed me, “Paddy Power are paying out.” What this apparently meant was that the last barrier to the ratification of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty had fallen. The Irish had approved the treaty in a referendum. The bookmakers, Paddy Power, were so sure of the result that they were paying out to people who had bet on a Yes vote.

Except that it looks like Paddy Power have made an expensive mistake. The FT is now reporting that Ireland has voted No.

What should we make of the Irish No? This is a relatively urgent question for me, since I will have to write a column about this for next Tuesday.

I must admit that I have mixed feelings on the subject – which is a dangerous condition for a columnist, since we are meant to deal in swinging certainties.

I do think it would be a shame if the European Union is plunged into yet another crisis – and wastes yet more time on navel-gazing. And I also think it’s possible that European politicians will react to this latest rebuff with some bits of populism to try and win back public support. That could mean a lurch to protectionism or blocking further enlargement of the EU – neither of which would be good news.

On the other hand, I think in some ways this is a richly-deserved come-uppance. The French and Dutch rejected the EU constitution in referenda. Rather than take no for an answer, European leaders re-packaged the constitution as “the Lisbon treaty” – pretended it was a different document and then tried to ram the whole thing through, without popular support. It was a pretty seedy exercise – and it deserves the rebuke that has now been delivered by the Irish.

I will let these two thoughts battle it out in my head over the weekend – as well as awaiting the advice of the esteemed readers of this blog.

In the meantime, I am interested in another baffling question – what is it that persuades a bookie that it is a good idea to pay out on bets, before the result is known? Every year we are told that some bookie or other is “paying out” on Man United winning the championship, even though there are still weeks of the football season to run. Why do it?

I think the short answer is publicity. Paddy Power could take out some advertisements in the media. Or they could get lots of “free” press coverage with a gimmick like the one they have just pulled on the Irish referendum.

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