“I voted Leave for reasons of sovereignty and democracy. Isn’t it ironic that this is exactly what we’ve now lost?” recently said Be Leave whistleblower Shahmir Sanni. My thoughts entirely, and this is why...
First published in May 2018.
Brexit turned on a particular notion of sovereignty; that ending the UK’s membership in the EU would “bring back” sovereignty to Parliament and end “Brussel’s” control over UK law. This is political smoke and mirrors. We always had control. This may come as a surprise to some, but before you switch off, please, hear me out.
The story starts with Parliamentary sovereignty. Parliamentary Sovereignty, what the ****!?
Basically, it’s a big deal. It underpins our whole constitution. Parliament is made up of the Lords, the Commons and the Government. The Lords and the Commons hold the government to account, essentially to avoid dictatorship. Examples of such being the Lords fight to uphold peace in Northern Ireland, defend rights of asylum seekers, protect the UK’s right to environmental standards and guard our human rights.
However, due to propaganda produced by unsavoury political narratives (cough) Daily Mail (cough), the British people, in large part, have internalised a misconception of Parliamentary sovereignty that is inaccurate and unrealistic. This misconception stemmed from the belief that, because we use some EU law and follow some EU rules, that meant Parliament was not sovereign. Newsflash! This is not the case.
Parliament has remained sovereign throughout the UK’s membership of the EU. It was an Act of Parliament which legalised our membership in the EU, and it will be an Act of Parliament which will take us out. It was an Act of Parliament which verified EU law. And it will be an Act of Parliament which will remove it. Parliament makes the laws. It is sovereign. Big deal, it’s always been that way.
The UK Government published a 77-page Brexit White Paper, February 2017. | Department for Exiting the European Union
Although, it really doesn’t help that Theresa May keeps repeating that the Withdrawal Bill (soon to be an Act of Parliament) means the UK “will be an independent sovereign nation”. This again implies that subject to EU laws, the UK was not sovereign. So, Mrs May has also “unknowingly” (but most probably consciously) contributed to telling the people that Parliament is not supreme unless it is all on its own.
What she really wants is to reduce the accountability of Government to Parliament. This would make the Government sovereign. That is dangerous play given the lack of a written constitution in the UK to protect our most basic rights.
Unfortunately, nationalism and right-wing populism is increasingly entwined with this smoke and mirrors misconception of sovereignty; that a country has to be THE ONE, THE ONLY, the GREAT GRAND BRITANNIA. An interesting position from a country which, through a control-centred depiction of sovereignty, imposed on numerous other countries’ sovereignty for centuries. Colonialism springs to mind. Hypocritical? Mmm Yes.
To leave the EU based on an ungrounded sentiment of ‘lack of control’ “is concerning, to say the least” says EU law Professor Catherine Barnard. A concern wrongly founded on the belief that Parliament was not sovereign from the UK’s accession of the 1972 European Communities Act (the Act of Parliament which confirmed our membership). Again, this is incorrect.
Constitutionally, neither control nor sovereignty will be gained after Brexit as it has not been lost. It’s still in Parliament’s hands.
The scariest part is the irony of this whole sovereignty argument. During this dreaded transition period, we will lose more sovereignty than ever before. And even Parliament’s sovereignty could be tested.
During the transition period (if it comes to that) Parliament will have absolutely no say in EU regulation, it will simply have to accept developments and laws through that period... a lot can happen in 21 months. Moreover, bigger global heavyweights will automatically gain the upper hand in international relations as the UK leaves a trading and security block that gave it at least approximate negotiating weight at the table with the likes of the U.S. (which is already setting its sights on our assets, such the NHS). Scary stuff.
The reality is, that leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ, as Theresa May has confirmed, “the UK law will continue to be influenced by ECJ rulings”. In short, our hands will be tied, where previously we had a voice. Our sovereignty comprised, where before we could decide.
‘The UK’, aka ‘The rule takers’... definitely not something we are used to.
And all for what — to ‘take back control’? When below the surface we will lose more control than ever before.
It is not too late to change our minds. We must carry on campaigning to remain and to save our sovereignty and democracy as it currently stands in the control of our Parliament, our country and with a say in the largest voting, and biggest trade organisation this world has ever known — the European Union.
On a side note, funny that a whole campaign was run on ‘take back control’, ‘bring back sovereignty to Parliament’ when we are about to give the most power to Brussels in the 21 months of transition than ever before... Again, oh, the irony indeed!
It is never too late to start campaigning, but this time for Parliament’s sovereignty. Parliament knows Brexit is wrong for our country; we have to tell MPs to do what’s right for us, politics aside. If Parliament really is supreme, then do what is best for the people and let us have a vote — A People’s Vote💬.
▫ Nina Parker, Head of Legal Campaign & Activist at OFOC.
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[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 31 May 2018. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Pixabay. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)