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Is Britain’s sovereignty in danger?

Posted by Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz (Admin) 5 months ago

Sovereignty was a key issue throughout the campaign, and Michael Gove was adamant that it was the “overwhelming reason” for the UK voting to leave the EU. To understand if British sovereignty is at risk, there needs to be an understanding of what ‘sovereignty’ actually is.

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Sovereignty can be understood as the supreme authority of a government, by which it is able to govern itself independently, without the interference of other nations. For example, the UK chose to set up the NHS while the US decided not to offer universal healthcare.

Now that we have established what sovereignty is, let’s look at whether the UK will gain sovereignty after Brexit. The ‘Vote Leave’ side argued that membership of the EU threatened the supreme authority of Parliament. Being a member of the EU means that we are subject to the principle of supremacy of the ECJ, which means that European law trumps national law. This is a popular idea. Indeed, Theresa May has suggested introducing the Great Repeal Bill to retrieve legislative powers from the EU.

Brexit could help to strengthen UK sovereignty. However, how sovereignty will be returned to the UK is not clear. The Great Repeal Bill is likely to result in the Henry VIII clauses being invoked when deciding which EU laws to keep and which to cut. This arrangement means that ministers and public services can avoid any EU law becoming UK law, without going through parliament. Legislation will be passed without scrutiny from elected officials, undermining the influence and importance of the country's democratic institution, Parliament.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain within the EU, and this has raised the question of whether they should be allowed to remain EU members by becoming independent. This creates the potential for future referendums in these countries. Even if the UK remains a unified state, it is unclear how the EU powers will be divided up between the four regions or whether they will remain solely in Westminster. The legislative powers, which the UK hopes to take back from the EU, may return powers back to the government but not necessarily to UK citizens.

Brexit can be seen to both increase and reduce parliamentary sovereignty. In theory, an exit from the EU will allow the UK to have control over all of its laws. However, Brexit may reduce parliamentary scrutiny and threaten the unity of the UK. Before we enter the minefield that is the negotiation process, we need to consider what kind of sovereign state we want to be.

Share your views and suggestions and contribute to the debate on the Generation Brexit platform now! 

Alice Stewart, Isabel Flanagan, and Ellie Couchman

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This post was edited on Jun 23, 2017 by Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz

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Comments (5)

Lev Bronstein says... 5 months ago

This article takes a very english centric approach to the idea of UK sovereignty. If its arguing that referendums and possible successions would weaken the sovereignty of UK but that would just be English sovereignty over those it has held under its imperial boot for hundreds of years. Brexit will lead to the liberation and self determination of those people and there freedom

Henry Cole says... 2 months ago

With regard to the term "Sovereignty", there is an importance nuance this post fails to consider. Irrespective of whether we continue to remain in the EU or not, UK Parliamentary Sovereignty, is, and will continue to be, the cornerstone of the UK Constitution. Britain's initial membership to the EU and subsequent incorporation of EU Law into our domestic system is due only to our own Parliament's enactment of the ECA (1972). Consequently, as outlined by our Government (2010): "What a sovereign Parliament can do, a sovereign Parliament can always undo". This leads me to disagree with the statement that "an exit from the EU will allow the UK to have control over all its Laws", as Parliament's absolute legislative authority was never compromised. This is confirmed by EU Legislation itself (s18 of the European Union Act 2011), which stipulates that all EU Law has effect in the UK only on the basis of Parliament's enactment of the ECA (1972). As the dicta in Jackson suggests, this is not to say Parliament has slowly began to self-impose limits (or introduce practical restraints) on its own Parliamentary Sovereignty - the continual Devolution process is another example of this. Nevertheless, in a theoretical sense, Sovereignty still remains relatively "untouched", and arguing that "Brexit could help to strengthen Sovereignty" is a statement I disagree with.

Ellie Couchman says... 5 months ago

Thanks for your point Lev. Please could you elaborate what you mean? 

Dayal Sekhon says... 1 week ago

While not wholly convinced by the argument of UK sovereignty as justification for Brexit, I am more intrigued as to why UK sovereignty matter so much to people. Instinctively when the topic comes up I gain an odd sense on patriotism. However, I am increasingly aware that a lot of media attention (pre and post Brexit) is directed towards how out of touch the UK government is with the UK public. If this is the case then would the change from EU control to UK control really influence the lives of citizens, or is it simply sifting blame closer to home. Moreover, I wonder whether people truly care who rules over them, versus what that rule entails, I'm not certain people mind who governs as opposed to the quality of the legislation produced.  

NinaMaras says... 6 days ago

I think the ironic thing is that, whilst dubbed the 'Great Reform Bill' (now rephrased to the 'EU Withdrawal Bill') which is currently in the current legislative pipeline, in order to get rid of EU law, the UK will not get rid of it as such but actually make it its own. Indeed, the Withdrawal Bill will repeal the ECA 1971 (which enables EU law to be effective in the UK) - but it simultaneously by doing so  not only retains everything adopted from EU law so far, but also therefore  "takes back control" by entrenching what was EU legislation into UK law, with the end result that it accords it higher status than it ever had before.

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