In recent weeks and months, in the context of the EU referendum, we have heard much about the concept of sovereignty. It has been defined and redefined, portrayed by some as a concept that is relevant to everyone, only then to be portrayed by others as no longer having any real significance. We are told that the value of sovereignty is contingent upon certain historical factors. That it is no longer of any use in a world defined by a very different set of circumstances, one in which we all face problems that affect us all equally, problems that can only be resolved through a collaborative effort. Yet sovereignty matters more today than ever before. It is at the heart of what it means to be democratic and self-governing nation.
So what exactly is sovereignty? It means that our parliament has power. It means that the people we elect to be members of that parliament to make our laws and levy taxes are accountable to us and removable. It is not a radical idea but rather a natural one, that a democratic nation should live under it’s own laws. A fully sovereign nation does not undermine the ability of a state to cooperate with other states. Sovereignty is more than just an abstract concept that is confined within the Westminster bubble; though the concept of sovereignty may be expressed through Parliament and elected politicians, sovereign power lies with the British people.
Politicians should not transfer sovereignty to supranational entities without the explicit consent of the people, for sovereignty is entrusted to politicians and not theirs to give away. That power is returned to the people whenever an election takes place. The only people who can decide upon a transfer of sovereignty are the people of the nation to whom it belongs.
The EU aggressively erodes national sovereignty and, worst of all, it is fundamentally undemocratic. The MEPs we elect, rather than using their positions to exert any significant influence are reduced to simply tinkering with technicality. The European Parliament cannot propose laws, a defining feature of a legislature. Rather its role is to amend legislation put forth by the European Commission, a body made up of 28 unelected members. More often than not, the Commission has become a stomping ground for politicians expressly rejected by their own nations, like Chris Patten and Neil Kinnock, both of whom served as European Commissioners.
Nothing struck me more during the EU referendum campaign then when I heard young voters claim that sovereignty was irrelevant or that they did not care about the principle it embodies, a principle for which a civil war was fought in this country. In the words of Tony Benn, it had become quite clear that a significant number of the population believed that ‘a good king is better than a bad Parliament.’ The EU, it was claimed, passed legislation which sections of the electorate agreed with and therefore the principles underpinning democracy and sovereignty no longer mattered.
What those who held such a position were basically saying was ‘I don’t trust my fellow citizens through force of argument and persuasion to vote for laws I like and therefore I am going to gain recourse through an unelected bureaucracy.’ What was also worrying was the unshakeable belief that unelected EU politicians could be trusted to continue to make laws which they agreed with, a guarantee that nobody can give, without a second thought given to what would happen if the EU passed legislation that they did not agree with. How would they propose to remove them, having surrendered sovereignty?
The concept of sovereignty affects both young and old. Recent events unfolding across Europe serve as a stark reminder about what happens when people feel frustrated at not being able to change their fate through the ballot box. When electorates discover that the politicians they vote for no longer make the key decisions that impact upon their daily lives, that frustration can easily turn into anger and apathy, leading to an increase in support for far right parties. Rather than taming the fires of nationalism for which the EU was established, the opposite has taken place. Take the example of Greece where Syriza won an election with the promise to put an end to austerity, only for the EU to reject the wishes of Greek people and demand even harsher cuts. Syriza had no choice but to capitulate, with support increasing for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.
The far right is also on the rise in countries such as France and Austria. There are those who will argue that this is down to the recession, and that the rise of the far right cannot be attributed to the European Union. This is true to an extent. However the EU’s economic policies which are aimed at harmonisation and monetary union, have significantly reduced the ability of governments to react to the unique situation their countries may find themselves in, the Euro being one example of this, serving as a catalyst to make the situation worse. If we want young and old to be able to fully shape the future course of their nations, then it is vital that they have the power to do so.
We have heard much about ‘pooling sovereignty’ in order to meet the truly global challenges that affect the world today. Yet suppose that you find your national interest is in the minority view in a system of pooled sovereignty, where despite this being the case, a nation has to sacrifice it’s own interests in the interests of the majority view. This amounts to nothing more than a reduction of sovereignty, with less accountability. The potential result is the same, the passage of laws and treaties upon a people that they did not agree to.
I am therefore delighted that the British people voted to leave the European Union and in doing so decided to take charge of their own fate and destiny. For it is far better to live under a bad parliament, that you are able to change, than to seek recourse across the continent, to have a democratically elected parliament overruled by unelected bureaucrats.
Basit works for a public policy research and events company and serves as deputy chairman for Luton Conservative Association. Follow him on Twitter: @BasitMahmood91
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty