May 17th, 2016

As the EU Referendum gets closer  the one point of  contention that is most irritating me is the question of sovereignty. One of the main platforms of the Leave campaign is the insistence that membership of the European Union has meant that the UK has somehow reduced sovereignty and lost the ability to make its own laws. This is just not the case. The fact that the European Union passes laws that we have agreed to be bound by does not diminish our ability to make law or choose which laws are applicable in our country.

To illustrate this I want to use an entirely spurious household analogy. I hate household analogies but they seem to be popular.

In our house, my wife (Emma) and I, have the same conversation on a daily basis. Well really it’s less of a conversation and more of a question, “what are we having for dinner?” In my fantastic analogy, it’s more than possible for me to randomly shout “you sit there, I’ll make dinner”. It could happen.

At  this point I could leap to my feet and cook up a tasty prawn curry. Now I know Emma doesn’t really like prawns which leaves her with a dilemma, she can eat it up, she can tell me she doesn’t like prawns (again) whilst eating it up or just refuse to eat it. In all cases she has maintained her sovereignty to make the final decision whether or not to eat it. In terms of diplomacy it might not be tactful to just refuse to eat it because a consequence might mean I just refuse to ever cook again. That would clearly not be to her long term advantage. On the other hand lodging a protest makes clear she has the option to not eat my lovely prawns and begins the negotiation about eating better food next time

prawnsAs an added complexity if I decided to try out my new method of cooking prawns, warming them on the window sill for a day and then rubbing sauce on them, then it is clearly in her interest to refuse to implement dinner in its present form. In our house we have managed to agree basic common standards in cooking that each of us won’t wilfully poison ourselves or each other. So far it’s worked. Though in the future if I decided to persistently poison my wife she would not be compelled to keep eating dangerous food, her sovereignty means she can decide that the risk of death outweighs the benefits of free dinner.

This is how the European Union works. At any point, as a sovereign nation, we can decide we don’t want to do this any more. In fact the referendum itself is a manifestation of that.

The claim that we have detrimental legislation imposed on us just doesn’t stand up. The majority of legislation that comes from the EU relates to making common standards for trade. For example, in the UK we might hit on an epic ruse to make cheap paint. We could sell loads of it really cheaply if we get kids to make it and pump it full of lead. We know kids like working and poisonous paint isn’t so bad if you hold your breath. This is isn’t a position that the EU agrees with. We decide to go ahead and pass the Kids and Paint Act 2016. Excellent we now have cheap paint and busy kids.

The EU is faced with two options. It can prevent us selling our cheap paint in the rest of the continent. It can also explain to us that the standards of child welfare and not killing decorators is not compatible with EU membership. We then weigh up how much we like cheap paint against the benefits that being a member of the EU brings us. If each time we think being a member of the EU is better than walking off then we stay and we let the EU law take precedence. “We let” is the most important part of that sentence. We as a sovereign state make that decision.

phoneThere are practical reasons why we need standards. Take mobile phones for example. It makes absolute sense for there to be a European wide standard for phones. Even the most ardent Europhobe isn’t suggesting that we shouldn’t be able to talk to our Euro friends. The simplest method to achieving this, is for all European members to agree a standard based on the most benefits and least disbenefits and then pass it into law for all of us, with each having a say in the debate.

The alternative would be for a small group to agree what looks like a good standard and then expect 28 individual parliaments to go away and talk about it and hope we all come back with the same one in a time frame that means we can all start setting up phone masts.

In many cases where trade occurs across borders it makes more sense for us to agree to let another body make decisions for us.

Which raises the issue of laws being imposed on us. As a safeguard to letting the EU pass some laws for us we have put in place a process that they must be passed by elected EU representatives (people we vote for). As an interesting aside the UK actually writes the majority of legislation that passes through the EU parliament, we’re good at it. Equally around 85% of legislation that goes through the EU parliament has historically gone with the UK vote.

PX*2956596That does leave a somewhat smaller percentage where laws we have opposed have been passed. But in reality that is often our own fault. For years now we have made UKIP the largest party that represents the UK in the EU Parliament. They  don’t vote. It’s tricky to get laws passed in your favour if you refuse to take part.

Also the Conservatives some time ago decided to join the far right coalition of parties. It’s difficult to get your view taken seriously in the EU if you’re perceived to be speaking on behalf of the far right.

So to summarise too many words. We choose to let another body pass laws on our behalf  because in the long run it is too our benefit. And we can’t make false claims about legislation being imposed on us just because we decide not to take part in votes.

We are still, and always will be, a sovereign nation.



Posted in Politics | Comments (6)

6 Responses to “Sovereignty”

  1. Stu Says:

    The author doesn’t seem to understand how the EU works such as the role of MEPs in the European Parliament as opposed to the European Council and the European Commission. These are just three of the myriad institutions that comprise the European Union yet the latter two aren’t even mentioned here.

    One hopes that anyone voting will at least understand the structure of the organisation in question. Also, that people don’t base their vote on a dislike of the messenger of either side of the debate, as appears to be the case here with the author seemingly letting their dislike of UKIP pushing them towards remain.

  2. Daz Says:

    Hi, I’m the author.

    I do understand how the EU works and I assume you’re implying that the existence of the Commission and Council in some way mean that the UK lacks sovereignty in creating its own laws. This just isn’t the case. Regardless of the complexity of the legislative process the final arbiter of whether legislation is applied in the UK is the UK parliament. We have merely off shored the process.

    Leaving that aside, and looking at the two elements of the European system you have raised, both are still directly accountable to us as citizens of member states. The Commission is made up of representatives that we nominate. Nominated commissioners must be ratified by the Parliament, and the Commission as a whole can be removed by the Parliament. That’s without taking into account that the Commission does not provide a legislative function. It functions much like our Civil Service in drafting and/or suggesting legislation to be agreed by the Parliament or Council.

    The Council of Ministers is composed entirely of elected representatives from member states. The Council is the body through which we use our veto. It’s the very essence of how our sovereignty is defined within Europe.

    Yes, I didn’t mention these bodies in the original post because they do not pose any contradiction to the main point. But yes, I do fully understand the structure of the EU.

    I’m utterly bemused by the comment about “disliking the messenger” in relation to UKIP. It is a matter of record that UKIP do not vote on issues in the EU parliament. My point is fairly simple, but I’ll repeat it. If you send elected representatives to a parliament that make a point of not voting then you can’t be that surprised if the vote goes against you. It’s not disliking the messenger, it’s fairly basic logic.

    Though further to that I do dislike the message from UKIP that the EU in some way reduces our sovereignty and ability to freely legislate. I dislike this because it is a lie based on a misrepresentation of constitutional law.

    Thank for reading.

  3. Stu Says:

    Thanks for the reply.

    Again, I take issue with the idea that we have much control over these proceedings.

    “We” don’t nominate or elect the Commission, we have no say in the matter. This has led to people like Mandelson, who very few in the UK would want representing them in any capacity, holding a position in the Commission. The Commission meets in secret – there are no minutes available to their meetings – and you’re right in that they can’t pass directives or regulations, but they have the power to propose them. They only section which “we” have any democratic influence over is Parliament and they have no power to bring forward legislation and can only debate, deliberate and propose amendments to whatever is handed to the them from the Commission.

    As an aside, the overall effect of the EU is further centralisation and I don’t really get why people support this when on most UK issues, they prefer de-centralisation.

  4. Daz Says:

    Of course you can take issue with what I’ve said. But it is fact.

    Each Commissioner is nominated by their member state and approved by the EU Parliament. So in the case of Peter Mandelson he was nominated by the democratically elected UK Government and he was approved by the democratically elected EU Parliament. There’s not really any way of getting round that.

    The EU Parliament can initiate legislation through the l’initiative de l’initiative process. Essentially requesting that the Commission propose legislation on its behalf. Equally citizens can make a request of the Commission to draft legislation.

    You can find the minutes of EU Commission meetings here;jsessionid=D06F59CBA0AC5127C66BA282636CDAF8.cfusion14501?fuseaction=gridyear

  5. Stu Says:

    One other thing. I also take issue with your interpretation of the importance of regulations. This is less to do with sovereignty in the way you framed it, but still relevant.

    In the mobile phone example, it would be foolish of a company to offer products/services incompatible with those in other countries. The idea that without regulations we could end up with phones from which we are unable to call people in Europe is preposterous.

    “In many cases where trade occurs across borders it makes more sense for us to agree to let another body make decisions for us.” Yes, companies can make this decision without the need for a governmental body. We can then choose to purchase whichever fits our needs best, rather then have this choice limited by regulation.

    The paint example is also pretty stupid since who in the hell is going to use a paint like you describe there? Again, we don’t need a European regulatory body to tell us not to use such a product, we can make our own judgements as consumers. It’s hardly likely a paint company is going to last long selling the paint in your article.

    The regulation in the EU is there to suit the needs of big companies, to keep smaller competing firms out of the market place. It is nothing to do with benefiting us as consumers.

    As this article puts it well:

    “The European Union is nothing more than a cartel of governments that tries to gain power by harmonizing the fiscal and regulatory legislation in every member State”.

    It will probably end up collapsing at some point so really the question is leave now or later, with later possibly putting the UK in a worse position –

  6. Daz Says:

    You say the mobile phone example is preposterous but it happened in the US. It took years for the US to agree on a standard to let different mobile systems work together. For years you couldn’t send texts across networks because they utilised different standards.

    You only have to look at the more local example of the Battle of the Gauges to see how a lack of coordination set back the growth of the railways in the UK.

    Equally you can say my example of making paint is stupid but that’s a little naive. That situation does happen at the moment. Look at the toys made in Chinese factories that have been seized in the EU because they have high levels of lead in the paint. There is no comeback because there are no legally enforceable standards in place. We can seize goods at the point of entry but that doesn’t help the people that have bought them. There is nothing to stop companies making dangerous goods, outside of the EU, just creating a new name and starting again.

    Also the reputational damage suffered by Apple and Nike as a result of allegations of child labour exploitation. That does happen, but again we have no recourse when it happens outside of the EU. If it happens in any EU country then businesses operating in the EU area have a legal recourse. It’s not about us as consumers choosing not buy things. It’s about retailers having some faith that the products they sell are made to legal and safe standards and if they’re not they can do something about it.

    As an owner of two small businesses, one that makes a significant amount of its turnover selling across the EU (incidentally selling goods manufactured in China) I absolutely do not recognise your claim that EU regulations harm small businesses.

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