The UK’s EU Referendum is fundamentally about national sovereignty, but there is little understanding about the EU and how it affects this. This contribution provides a fresh understanding of these issues. This is a short summary of my more detailed report Sense About Sovereignty (PDF).
The UK’s conferral and sharing sovereignty is for specified EU purposes, with the core areas of its national sovereignty satisfactorily protected:
- The EU’s constitutional arrangements specify those areas where Member States have conferred “competence” exclusively to EU level, fundamentally relate to the effective functioning of its Single Market – eg competition and internal market transparency.
- Competence is otherwise either shared at EU level or remains exclusively with the Member States. Core areas of sovereignty remain under national control – public expenditure and taxation, defence, domestic and foreign policy.
- The EUs two key principles:
- Subsidiarity: where the EU does not have exclusive competence, it can only act if it is better placed than its Member States to do so;
- Proportionality: the scope of EU action must be limited to what is necessary to achieve its objectives, with Member States determining how policy decisions taken at EU level are actually implemented at national level.
- All proposed EU legislation must be approved in advance by national Parliaments as consistent with subsidiarity and also by the democratically, directly elected EU Parliament.
EU membership enhances the UK’s practical sovereignty by:
- Giving access to the Single Market, representing around one-quarter of the world’s GDP;
- Enhancing the UK’s political influence internationally because of the EU’s standing as a leading global political entity.
- These benefits more than offset bureaucratic and financial costs to the UK of EU membership.
The UK’s national interest is to remain in the EU:
- Its special status outside the Eurozone is secure, without it having to participate in any further political integration by other of its Member States.
- Should the UK leave the EU, it will, in any event, have to comply with EU regulations in exporting to it, and if still in the Single Market, will have to make a comparable financial contribution to the EU, with EU free movement of labour requirements also continuing to apply.
- The EU faces major challenges, in particular in relation to the sustainability of the Eurozone and its political cohesion. However it is in the UK’s national interest to work for its reform from within the EU, and for it to leave it would be reckless. Nevertheless, should this not prove to be in its national interest in due course, the UK can leave it at some future stage since sovereignty is always inalienable.