Editor’s Note – This opinion article, passionately written by Nathan, discusses the issue of sovereignty – a topic that was at the heart of the campaign to leave the European Union. But was the promise of regaining sovereignty after Brexit a myth?
Why regaining sovereignty after Brexit was a myth…
According to the Lord Ashcroft poll, a desire for ‘sovereignty’ was the main motivation for the vote to Leave on June 23rd. Since then, Theresa May used her speech at the 2016 Conservative conference in Birmingham to argue that Britain must leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This was put forward on the grounds that it was “neither necessary nor appropriate” for a Britain not in the European Union.
However, despite this seemingly conclusive evidence that Theresa May believed we should take back sovereignty some of her earlier speeches seemed to contradict this. This was most obviously shown through her tone during the referendum campaign which highlighted the flaw in this reasoning. In this speech she argued that “no country or empire in world history has ever been totally sovereign,” saying that “even at the height of their power, the Roman Empire, Imperial China, the Ottomans, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, modern-day America, were never able to have everything their own way.”
This speech by May encapsulated the problem of voting to leave solely on the grounds of sovereignty: that it is a total myth. In a recent speech, Tony Blair challenged his audience to name a single judgement by the European Court of Justice that they disagreed with- naturally no such disagreement existed. Indeed, the ECJ is an independent court of arbitration that is a necessity in any free trade agreement. What May’s conference speech seemed to suggest was that Britain would negotiate bilateral free trade deals across the world which would all be arbitrated by the British Parliament. In reality, these would be arbitrated by the World Trade Organisation, no different to the ECJ as a point of principle.
Equally, it is a great irony that the vote to Leave was viewed by many as ‘taking backing control’ from ‘unelected bureaucrats’ when the often criticised EU bureaucrats appear to be outmanoeuvring their British counterparts at every stage of the negotiation- and now have much more ‘control’ over Britain’s future than they did before. Leave voters don’t seem to be so concerned by Britain’s unelected civil servants, upper chamber and monarch.
In reality, British influence has always been maximised as a member of the EU, when it pools sovereignty with 27 other nations in order to tackle issues that can’t be solved alone- climate change, cross-border crime and global tax avoidance naturally being some of them.
What the Leave campaign were able to cynically manipulate was a desire amongst the British people for more control over their own lives and the decisions they take. The solution for this legitimate concern is increased devolution, more direct democratic engagement and community outreach programme to help engage more people so they take an interest in decisions such as whether to leave to EU.