Betting tycoon wants a UK referendum

Mon, Jun 9, 2008, 01:00

Millionaire Tory donor Stuart Wheeler claims the British government refusal to put Lisbon to a public vote is unlawful

UK CONSERVATIVE Party donor and spread betting tycoon Stuart Wheeler is about to embark on his most ambitious punt yet.

Today in the British High Court the 73-year-old's lawyers will contest the British government's decision not to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The judicial review comes just before the British House of Lords is due to vote on Lisbon on Wednesday.

"There are three reasons why I think there should be a referendum," says Mr Wheeler. "The government in the shape of the prime minister have over and over again promised to hold one.

"The treaty represents a very important transfer of power from our parliament to the EU, and I am against ratification of the treaty and I believe that if we have a referendum in this country it would almost certainly be rejected."

Mr Wheeler, who sold his shares in the spread betting firm IG Index, which he founded in 1974, for £100 million, has been waging a one-man legal assault on the British government since it decided not to put the Lisbon Treaty to a public vote last year.

To many people's surprise he won the first round last month and was granted leave by Mr Justice Owen to challenge the decision not to hold a referendum.

Prime minister Gordon Brown has argued that Lisbon is a completely different treaty to the EU constitution, which the Labour Party had agreed to put to a referendum. His decision has been controversial, with the Eurosceptic press and the Conservative leader David Cameron accusing him of breaking an election promise.

An opinion poll commissioned by Mr Wheeler last week and carried out by YouGov found that 65 per cent of people thought Labour had broken its promise, while 51 per cent said they thought there should be a vote on the treaty.

"We are seeking a declaration from the High Court that the refusal to grant a referendum is unlawful," says Mr Wheeler. "The specific legal argument is that there is a 'legitimate expectation' for a referendum to be held in Britain. In other words, when the government promises something to the electorate it should do it."

The odds seem stacked against Mr Wheeler. Even if he wins the legal case, which most British legal observers doubt, the government would not be obliged to hold a referendum. However, he insists that such a ruling would heap pressure on the British government to hold a public vote.

Mr Wheeler says he opposes Lisbon because it transfers too much power to Europe. He cites the loss of British veto power in about 50 areas at the Council of Ministers and the creation of a semi-permanent president of the European Council, which he alleges could lead to the loss of Britain's seat on the UN Security Council, which the British government denies.

Mr Wheeler says he is following the referendum campaign in Ireland with interest and he applauds the Government's decision to hold a public vote.

"I definitely hope there will be a No vote . . . in these referendums the Nos always seem to gain in the last week. I think it's because the Nos tend to feel more strongly about it and turn out at the polls".