Yesterday in the debate on UK Parliamentary sovereignty I asked How does a sovereign lose their sovereignty?
Sovereignty is not the same as power. Confusion over this leads to some of the arguments about the EU. Those who favour a federal state say such a state would be more powerful than the British state acting on its own, that “pooling” sovereignty enhances our sovereignty rather than damaging it. Anti federalists point out that if you “pool” sovereignty you cease to be sovereign. The new larger organisation may well be more powerful, but you do not control it in the way you controlled your own country. California is more powerful than Iceland, but Iceland has its own sovereign democratic government whilst the government of Cailfornia is under the direction of the sovereign US federal authority.
However, sovereignty and power are closely related. Why did the British Crown cease to be sovereign? It lost sovereignty through major transfers of power. Parliament wrestled away control of the money, the army and the machinery of government from the Crown. Parliament was then clever enough to vest its own new found power in a cloak of constitutional respectability through democratic enfranchisement, making it the people’s government and Parliament. Voters became sovereign, as they could dismiss Parliaments and governments they did not like when asked at regular intervals. In between elections voters could get government’s attention, as Ministers tried to find ways to please electors sufficiently to stay in office.
So the issue today is how can the British people and Parliament lose their sovereignty? If it needs by general agreement a new Act of Parliament to buttress it, there must be transfers of power eroding it.
By keeping control of our own currency we still have monetary sovereignty. The UK Parliament still commands the UK armed forces. The UK Parliament still has substantial control over taxation and spending if it wishes. Yet in area after area now when it comes to legislation, when it is a question of who makes the rules, the truthful answer is the EU makes the rules.
It is this which worries many electors and some MPs. It is this which has led to a reassertion that all EU law in the UK is the result of an Act of Parliament. Implied is the proposition that what Parliament has granted to the EU, a future Parliament could remove or amend.
The question remains how much power can a country give away before it has lost its sovereignty? In the end that comes down to a question of political will. If a country never uses its theoretical powers and keeps giving powers away it may one day wake up to realise it is no longer sovereign. Like the monarch before it, Parliament might retain ceremony and some privileges, but much of the purpose would have passed elsewhere.