By Matthew Burton
In a recent post on this blog, Chris Kirkland highlights the problematic nature of the concept of sovereignty in relation to the Brexit debate and the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. On the one hand, Brexit campaigners argue that the UK has already lost its sovereignty to the European Union. A legally precise argument in this vein would point to the EU doctrines of supremacy and direct effect, which allow nationals of Member States of the EU to enforce EU law within the courts of the Member States, and requires EU law to take priority whenever it conflicts with a principle of domestic law. On the other hand, as the referendum demonstrates, the Westminster Parliament is free to legislate to withdraw from the EU whenever it wishes, and from a legal perspective at least, could do so without the need for any kind of referendum or national vote.
By Chris Kirkland
One of the main arguments of the Brexit campaign revolves around the concept of ‘sovereignty’. The basic argument put forward by the campaign is that if the British voted to leave the European Union (EU), then ‘we’, the people, would claw back ‘our’ sovereignty. Whilst this argument has been advocated by a range of groups and campaigners (here and here for examples), little attention has actually been spent on understanding the concept of sovereignty on which the argument relies. Here, I ask a series of related questions. What is sovereignty? And as a concept, is there a useful distinction between the holding and the exercise of sovereignty? I ask who the term ‘we’ refers to, and whether sovereignty, resides with Parliament, the electorate or some sense of ‘the people’. How does all this impact the forthcoming EU referendum, and especially the argument that sovereignty has been ‘lost’? These questions matter because both sides have engaged with a very technocratic debate surrounding the economics of remaining or leaving the EU, yet in doing so have arguably simplified a complex issue.
Please note that this blog piece was originally published on the PSA Insight Blog, and is available here.
By Ben Worthy
As a newly elected Prime Minister, you wait around for one European problem then two come along at once. While David Cameron is trying to deal with his EU referendum promise, another ‘European’ problem has reared its head in the Queen’s Speech. The Conservatives promised to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights – see this full fact analysis for background. Continue reading