London: The Conservatives today vowed to try and block Tony Blair from becoming the first President of Europe as Ireland overwhelmingly approved the Lisbon Treaty. Shadow foreign secretary William Hague declared that his party was preparing to lobby European capitals about the former Prime Minister’s appointment.
‘There could be no worse way to sell the EU to the people of Britain,’ Mr Hague declared hours before the results of the vote were revealed this afternoon.
The Treaty’s approval in Ireland, which paves the way for the President role to be created, was welcomed with relief there and by EU leaders in Brussels.
A total of 67.1 per cent of the electorate voted ‘yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty, according to today’s official result, which Taoiseach Brian Cowen said was a declaration of intent to stay at the heart of Europe.
Mr Cowen said: ‘The Irish people have spoken with a clear and resounding voice. This is a good day for Ireland and a good day Europe.
‘We as a nation have taken a decisive step for a stronger, fairer and better Ireland and a stronger, fairer and better Europe.’
Jubilation: Irish supporters of the Lisbon Treaty celebrating outside Dublin Castle today after it was overwhelmingly approved
Resounding: Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen (c) stands with some of his ministers in Dublin after Ireland votes ‘yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty
Mr Blair is hot favourite for the plum EU President job, which comes with a whole host of perks as well as a salary the size of Barack Obama’s.
But the Tories are set to spend the next few weeks lobbying Berlin, Paris and other capitals to try and stop him getting the job.
‘The other European governments need to be aware that the easiest way to turn the British people against the European Union and underline the lack of legitimacy and democracy of what would be created by the Lisbon treaty is to make Tony Blair the president,’ Mr Hague told The Times.
He added: ‘Imagine what this says to the British people if they vote out a Labour Government and then discover that one of the prime authors is still in power over them without anyone having a vote on whether the office should even exist, let alone on who should hold it.’
Second time lucky: Ireland had rejected the Lisbon Treaty last year
The full official figures for the Irish vote have not yet been revealed but it is already clear the Yes side has won with a huge majority.
Tipperary South was the first to return a result, with 68 per cent in favour of the Treaty. A massive 76 per cent voted Yes in Kildare North and 70 per cent in Tipperary North.
A clearly relieved European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a press conference in Brussels: ‘The Irish people have spoken. They have said a resounding Yes to Europe. Thank you Ireland.
‘It is a great day both for Ireland and for Europe. I am extremely happy. All member states have now democratically approved the Lisbon Treaty, either by popular or by parliamentary vote.
‘I want to congratulate the Irish people on reaching their overwhelming decision after such long and careful deliberation. I see the Yes vote as a sign of confidence by the Irish people in the EU and as a sign of their desire to be wholehearted members at the heart of the EU.’
Relieved: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the results today at a press conference in Brussels
Defeat: Declan Ganley from Libertas at The Dublin count centre in Dublin today
European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek declared that Europe was ‘back on track’ after the Irish vote.
‘I strongly welcome the result of the Irish referendum. The Irish people have demonstrated true commitment to the European project. They reconfirmed their desire to be in the heart of Europe. This is good news for Ireland and good news for Europe,’ he said.
Millionaire businessman Declan Ganley, who spearheaded the rejection of the first treaty in the initial vote, conceded defeat.
‘I’m surprised how big the Yes vote is. It just shows how scared people are,’ Mr Ganley said, claiming the economic downturn had a massive influence.
‘This is an overwhelming Yes vote. I respect the outcome, I respect the result and the people have spoken.’
After today’s vote, Czech president Vaclav Klaus’s refusal to sign the Treaty is the last major obstacle to it coming into force at the start of next year.
David Cameron has assured Mr Klaus that a Tory government would call a referendum on the document as long as it is still not in force by the time they come to power.
But today LibDem MEP and staunch federalist Andrew Duff insisted the ‘plotting’ had to stop.
‘The Tories will not be a credible governing party unless and until they drop their opposition to deeper European integration. It is impossible to take seriously a Conservative policy which prefers the weak and rather clumsy EU we have now, to a reformed, more efficient EU which can play a credible role in world affairs,’ he said.
Czech senators who oppose the treaty have just filed a new complaint about its constitutional validity.
Mr Klaus says he will not put his signature to the document until the Czech constitutional court decides the case – even though the Czech parliament has already approved it.
Mr Blair could now be installed as EU President before the end of this month.
If he landed the presidential role, Mr Blair can expect to live in the lap of luxury with 20 staff, a chauffeur and generous entertainment expenses for taking the powerful post.
But he would almost certainly be forced to ditch his lucrative outside interests – which might make him think twice about applying for the job.
He has raked in £12million since he left Downing Street two years ago.
Centre stage: Tony Blair with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Governors’ Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles yesterday
The EU’s 500million voters will not have a say in who heads the 27-nation superstate. Instead, the decision will be made by the leaders of the member countries.
Even though the responsibilities and rewards for the new president have not been decided, it is expected the successful applicant will receive as much as European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.
The Liberal Democrats are also rigorously opposed to Mr Blair’s potential new appointment.
Lib-Dem frontbencher Mr Davey said: ‘There are numerous reasons why Tony Blair’s candidacy for EU president must be vigorously opposed.
‘Blair split Europe over his decision to back Bush in the disastrous Iraq war.
‘There are still unanswered questions over his role in a British policy that failed to prevent complicity in torture.
‘No Government can in good conscience support Tony Blair as a potential EU president while it remains unclear what his role was in this issue.’
He pockets an annual salary of about £270,000, slightly less than Mr Obama. As well as the use of a chauffeur, a plush car and 20 members of staff, the President of Europe is also likely to get a £15,600 entertainment allowance.
As a former prime minister, Mr Blair already gets a taxpayer-funded pension of £63,468 a year plus an annual £84,000 allowance to run a private office.
If Mr Blair becomes president he will have a say over UK foreign and domestic policy and could prove a thorn in the side of David Cameron, should he win the next election.
However, critics said the former Labour leader’s role as a Middle East envoy was incompatible with his lucrative new job with an Arab state.
Mr Blair is an adviser to Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund which invests Abu Dhabi’s oil profits.
But this threatened his independence to broker peace between Israel and the Arab world, according to Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey.
Mr Blair refused to comment on speculation on whether he will run for the prestigious post.
Despite his role in the unpopular Iraq war and Britain’s failure to join the euro, he is known to have heavyweight political support across Europe including French leader Nicolas Sarkozy.
But Mr Blair may be deterred from accepting the job if it hits his other money-making activities.
Since leaving No 10 he has boosted the family finances with a money- spinning sideline as an adviser, getting £2million from investment bank J P Morgan and £500,000 from Zurich Financial Services.
He has also become one of the world’s best-paid public speakers, commanding £157,000 for a 90-minute address.
European Commission rules state that ‘Commissioners may not engage in any other professional activity, whether paid or unpaid’, suggesting Mr Blair would be forced to drop his sidelines.
Mats Persson, research director of think-tank Open Europe, said: ‘If he takes up the position, Tony Blair must make sure that the many political and commercial interests that he’s currently entwined in are not allowed to shape his agenda as EU president.
‘He must stay well clear of all types of conflicts of interest.’
Former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett played down his chances. She said: ‘I’m sure he would be a strong candidate