Parliament in the UK established its power by insisting that it should approve taxation before it was imposed by the King or Queen. When the Crown needed more money it had to summons Parliament. Parliament insisted on the redress of its grievances before voting the monarch the money he wanted. The fact that Kings and Queens had to ask Parliament for new taxes made them wary of asking for too much too o0ften.
The Crown also accepted Parliament’s role as a legislator and used Parliament to pass new laws. A crucial series of Acts in the 1530s established UK supremacy over the clergy and the Church. In England the Reformation was largely a peaceful Parliamentary process, where Parliament asserted the Crown’s sovereignty. The Pope’s power was extinguished by Act of Parliament, and individuals lost their right to appeal to Rome for ultimate judgements of their cases.
In the 1630s the King attempted to rule without Parliament and experimented with new taxes that he wished to impose without Parliamentary authority. Parliament’s challenge to this presumption by Charles I was an important part of the outbreak of the civil war. During the Protectorate and in the 1660 Restoration Parliament’s control over taxes was firmly re-established.
Today the threat to Parliament’s power to tax comes not from the monarch but from the EU. The reason so many of us object to the EU’s retrospective recalculation of our tax bill to the EU is that we, the UK electorate and Parliament, have no control or say over this. Defenders of the EU say the UK should just pay up. They claim it is like a change of calculation for an individual’s income tax, or like an increased subscription from a club we belong to. I disagree.
The EU’s £1.7 bn tax is not a simple change to a bill we owe, something the UK government can easily provide for. At a time when the UK government is already borrowing too much and has imposed high taxes, this is an unaffordable new imposition. It is not a tax on the UK government, but a new direct tax on all UK taxpayers who are expected by the EU to consume and spend less so the EU can spend more or give more to other countries.
The EU is not a a set of binding obligations like income tax on an individual, It is a series of opaque and often ambiguous and contradictory international agreements between states within the EU. There is a legal structure, but there is also a political structure, so that from time to time countries avoid or amend their apparent legal obligations when the politics of them is unacceptable. Just look at the way the obligation to bring balance of payments accounts into balance has been ignored throughout most of the life of the EU, or the way the need to keep budget deficits to 3% or below has been breached for long periods by many states. Is the UK now to comply with the budget deficit reduction requirement, which means not paying the extra impost, or with the tax bill?
The UK Parliament is still sovereign in the UK for one very good reason. Parliament , and Parliament alone, can decide to repeal or amend the European Communities Act 1972 which remains the origin and fount of all EU power in the UK. If we continue in the EU for a long period without ever using Parliament’s sovereign power, this may change. If we accept a European army and police force we might reach the position where disagreeing with an EU measure becomes law breaking or an act of rebellion. Today we have not reached that position. If Parliament does not agree with this new tax, then it should simply amend the 1972 Act to legalise non payment. I doubt they would try to end our membership, as it remains a great deal for the EU. I also expect they would find all sorts of changes to our budget deal are possible, if we moved to do this, as they would see the dangers to them of the UK visibly reasserting Parliamentary sovereignty.
In the EU everything is renegotiable to those with the political will when they are paying for the organisation. It is not yet a centralised state with the power to tax UK citizens as if it were the UK Parliament imposing Income Tax.