The meaning of sovereignty has been argued over for centuries from the divine right of kings to the Queen-in-Parliament. Yet to listen to government’s account of the last ditch EU negotiations, we are about to seriously damage the economy, security, policing, arts, and scientific research of the United Kingdom for an abstract noun. It may be because we long to regain the lonely heroism after Dunkirk of eighty years ago. Or we’ve lost sight of what the future will look like for our children and grandchildren. Or it may simply be that Boris Johnson, looking over his shoulder at his extremist back benches, thinks he has no choice if he is to continue as Prime Minister for a few more months.
Endless repetition of ‘sovereignty’ by government ministers, presented as an inviolable principle to explain why they have failed to engage successfully in the normal give-and-take of negotiations, is an aspect of ‘truth decay’. The growth of interdependence globally, and the success of regional economic markets, of which the European Single Market is a good example, has been the product of sovereign states pooling sovereignty for the Common Good. The question is not a binary choice sovereignty or loss of sovereignty, control or loss of control, but how much sovereignty it is prudent to pool.
The remaining issues blocking a deal with the EU are not huge matters of principle. According to Dominic Raab they are: ‘the most basic democratic principles’. Nor are we “the only country in the world as an independent coastal state without control of our fisheries”, as he claims. Malta will be surprised to learn it is not an independent coastal state. We seek continued tariff free access to the Single Market and that requires accepting its rules. The fisheries disagreement is about negotiable quotas and access to the vast European culinary market for fish caught in UK waters. We can’t be a rule-taker on aspects of common standards, interventionist state aid and subsidies we are told. Why not? The EU rules contain several major categories of exemptions such as for environmental aid already. And we presumably believe in regulations to ensure that markets function efficiently. That’s the level playing field. Or do we want to model ourselves on China? And finally there is the question of what legal authority will decide market disputes now we have left the EU. Sounds an important problem but we already benefit from the conventions, rules and rulings of a number of different supranational courts and bodies such as the UN and NATO, and most notably the European Court of Human Rights - which underpins human rights culture vital for democracy - established by the 47 members of the European Council ( not an EU body). And no deal makes us a rule-taker from the WTO. Why are we behaving as if the EU is asking us to abolish the monarchy before we can have access to the Single Market?
Our increasingly fragile unity as a four-nation country is now in jeopardy. Some 300 years ago in dire economic circumstances Scotland pooled many aspects of its sovereignty with England. The 1998 Scotland Act returned many elements. It turns out that within Britain our government recognises that aspects of national sovereignty are negotiable. As Nicola Sturgeon tweeted on 12 May 2014 in the run-up to the first Independence referendum: “The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened". Hard to believe its 15 years since Winnie Ewing said this”. The intention to ‘reconvene’ a Scottish nation state has hardened.
Does the Westminster government fully understand how BREXIT has reinforced the SNP’s position on sovereignty, or more precisely independence, and made the position of Westminster’s opposition to a second referendum increasingly difficult to sustain? If the United Kingdom by democratic vote can decide that it no longer wishes to pool some of its sovereignty with a larger political entity, the EU, what grounds does it have for denying Scotland the same opportunity to review its historical decision to pool most of its national sovereignty with the United Kingdom. Yes, it was a long time ago. And yes its loss of self-determination was much greater. But if we are in the land of inviolable principles it’s the same principle. The profoundest irony is that the Scottish decision in any future referendum will be much influenced by its wish to renew its pooled sovereignty with European states, overruled by the total UK vote of 2016.
All eyes have rightly been on Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement. They will shortly be turning to a growing conflict with Scotland. Is the future of our children and grandchildren really being decided by three score and ten Tory members of Parliament? The right-wing of the Conservative Party has conducted a ruthless campaign holding every Tory Government to ransom for decades. Not the moan of a so-called ‘Remoaner’, merely a simple question: “who is going to take back control from them?
See The Article 12/12/20