More thoughts on our sovereignty


                   I read that some think I have suggsted in my blog and speech on sovereignty that it is divisible or can be shared. That is not what I said.

                    Many purists think sovereignty is like virginity. You either have it or you have lost it. This an unfortunate simile for it, but my view is closer to this positon than to the view that you can divide or share it.

                     If you study  history  you conclude that you can  have only one sovereign  person or body, and that person or body can lose its sovereignty. In that sense it is like virginity. However, it is not always  obvious at the time when sovereignty has been lost. It may only become clear many years later. Where our sovereignty now rests depends on what happens next.

                     I asked the question when and how did the Crown cease to be our sovereign? When the medieval  Crown was wrestled from the thorn bush in battle, or when it changed hands by other means , everyone knew that with its power  sovereignty passed from one wearer to the next. He who wore the Crown might wear the sorrows, but the medieval monarch was the ultimate srouce of command, or the  sovereign. He could make the rules and change the rules, raise the taxes, manufacture the coins, command the armies, order the judges and declare war.

                      The twentieth century monarch had none of these powers in anything but name. They came to  rest with the  Prime Minister answerable to Parliament. Ultimately they rested with the people through their power to influence and to vote out of office any government that formed.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†It is by no means clear when the Crown ceased to be sovereign and Parliament became sovereign. If you asked me to choose a single moment I would suggest the day Parliament executed the King. This ushered in an era of direct Parliamentary rule, followed by Parliament restoring the Crown to the monarch on Parliament’s terms. From that day on monarchs knew the limts to their power were those imposed by Parliament. Charles had ruled alone without Parliament in the 1630s. No later monarch tried to stifle or close down Parliament.

                     Today Parliament still claims to be sovereign. It can and does still  order the money to be printed. The Bank, the UK courts and judges, the army and navy carry out its bidding or behave under its laws and edicts. However, Parliament has also given to the EU superior law making powers to itself. There are superior courts and judges which the UK Parliament does not choose or direct.

                    Parliament remains sovereign if at a future date it modifies or alters those powers exercised by the EU. If it turns out that  EU powers are now untouchable, if they continue to grow, and if they come to regulate and order many more features of our lives, when will we say that Parliament is no longer sovereign?

                        Sovereignty is not the same as power, but the sovereign has to have the ultimate power. The sovereign is the one who can in a crisis decide to change the way all the other power holders behave. Parliament became sovereign by removing the previous sovereign. The EU can become sovereign from here.

                      Ultimately, in all systems, the popular will is sovereign. The most powerful of medieval monarchs had to exercise power in ways that avoided alienating too many powerful forces at the same time. The most powerful of Prime Ministers has to be ever mindful of popular support and popular opinion. Even the worst tyrannies of the world can eventually be torn down by people power, as we saw in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.


  1. lifelogic
    January 16, 2011

    Your analysis is excellent sovereignty may well be gone before it is widely realised.

    You say “Even the worst tyrannies of the world can eventually be torn down by people power, as we saw in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.”

    The EU shows every sign of developing into one of these tyrannies. The lack of real democratic control and any response to the citizen’s true wishes make it very hard for the public to prevent this.

    The pursuit of largely religious agendas such as climate change exaggerations, ever bigger government, huge over regulation, sustainability, equality (of outcome) for all, save EU/government officials with their own tax regimes and the huge bill, paid by tax payers, just for the EU’s endless self promotion.

    I hope I am proved wrong and Cameron and the other leaders will finally take some preventative action.

    1. lifelogic
      January 16, 2011

      Sovereignty may well be gone before it is widely realised – not least because all the efforts and money of the EU and its collaborators will be aimed at achieving this precise goal.

  2. Sam Kirklee
    January 16, 2011

    Maybe the EU will be torn down by market forces? Let’s hope it is before it becomes something worse than it is now. All the western economies are headed towards currency collapse anyway and it would at least be fun to see the Euro go first.

    1. Mike Stallard
      January 16, 2011

      When the currency collapses, mob rule begins as people look for scapegoats like the Jews, the Bankers or the White Farmers. I suppose this time, it could be (some other religious group-ed)? Or the Bank Managers (Bonuses?)? Or, of course, if it is a leftie riot, it could be the Tories.

  3. Brian Tomkinson
    January 16, 2011

    JR: “Today Parliament still claims to be sovereign. It can and does still order the money to be printed. The Bank, the UK courts and judges, the army and navy carry out its bidding or behave under its laws and edicts. ”
    All these areas are being targeted by the EU and will not remain under our Parliamentary sovereignty for much longer. There can be no doubt that, despite all the denials over all the years by all the various politicians, the objective of the EU is to become the sovereign of the existing and future member states. Your excellent analysis should serve as a warning to all but I fear it will fall on deaf ears until the realisation that it is too late to stop this finally dawns. We don’t want then to find that the only solution is the kind of upheaval witnessed in other countries around the world.

  4. andrew williams
    January 16, 2011

    Dear Mr Redwood,

    I think the new Liberal Conservative party which is developing before our eyes will permanently inhibit and block off any effective opposition to the EU within the Conservative party. Unless a number of Conservative MPs broke away from the Conservative Party, but they seems very unlikely.


    1. Ken
      January 16, 2011

      Why should they?

      The fact is the Liberal Democrat Party and the need to please the BBC has moved the government’s centre of gravity to the Left does not mean that those who still hold Conservative principles should leave the party. And where would they go? It would not do any of us any good if up to 50 MPs joined UKIP and only 5 kept their seats at the next election.

      I think that the better outcome is for a rainbow alliance of like-minded politicians to be formed while they stay in their respective parties. The term ‚ÄėTea Party‚Äô has already been ‚Äėdirtied‚Äô by the BBC (as has the term ‚Äėright wing‚Äô), so it would need to be called something else.

      I think John and his like-minded colleagues are right to argue their case from within the Conservative party.

      1. Norman Dee
        January 17, 2011

        A new right wing Party of National Interest could take all the exist ing known rebels and form a small party to rescue us from Europe, it would gain popular support and would start it’s life with as many seats as the Lib Dems have had, and would hold a new balance of power against the coalition.

  5. Pete
    January 16, 2011

    I agree with your analysis of the EU. I think the shift in power from the King to Parliament had begun before Charles I was executed, though. Both James and Charles had problems reaching a deal with Parliament which would allow them to raise the money they wanted. (Rather ironically in view of recent events, James had a profitable business selling peerages and other titles, which allowed him to raise money without Parliament consenting to a new tax.)

    The sovereignty of the King is quite a slippery concept, I think. In 1297, Magna Carta limited the King’s powers. In particular, the consent of Parliament (or at least, the assembly which would become Parliament) was required for new taxes. Was the King truly sovereign after that? We wouldn’t say that the UK was sovereign if the EU had a veto on any changes to its tax system.

    During the Wars of the Roses (1400s) two groups fought for control of the country using their own armies. Was the King sovereign if the country contained private armies that he couldn’t get rid of?

    On the other hand, Henry VIII (1400s-1500s) eventually ruled as a dictator. He gradually eliminated all the checks and balances, to the point where he could do what he wanted‚ÄĒin practice if not according to legal theory.

    1. Andy
      January 20, 2011

      Just a point. King Charles I wasn’t ‘executed’. He was murdered.

      To execute someone you must use the law and due process. The King was brought before a kangaroo court – the King himself asked ‘by what authority, I mean lawful, authority, am I brought hither ?’ No one could answer that question. He was charged with High Treason, but those who framed the indictment had obviously never read the Treason Act of 1351.

      So it was murder. Many of those who signed the warrant paid for it, and quite rightly so, with their lives. The King himself became a martyr, paradoxically to liberty.

      Reply: That was the royalist view at the time. The next eleven years showed that the royalists did not have the power to enforce that view.There was great bitterness between the two sides over the role of the regicides when they agreed a Restoration.

  6. NickW
    January 16, 2011

    I agree with everything lifelogic has said and ask the question;

    “If the people can see that the EU’s destination is tyranny; why can’t the politicians?

    Whose popular will is it that counts? Is it the man in the street who has no power on his own save for a single vote, or is it a different power base?

    Who has the power to halt the slide into tyranny?

  7. Anoneumouse
    January 16, 2011

    Mr Redwood, what Kings, Queens, presidents and the political hangers on who think they are elite; fail to appreciate is…. the mob is sovereign.

    1. Mike Stallard
      January 16, 2011

      No! this is just not true.
      Napoleon, when faced with the mob dispersed it with a whiff of grape shot. The Chinese in Tiennamen Square shot the little man. Hitler’s mob were shot down in 1922.
      Most people just don’t care.
      Were you at the Student Riots/Countryside march?
      Well, then.

      1. Stuart Fairney
        January 17, 2011

        Indeed, leaders fall to the mob (Shah of Iran, Louis XVI, Czar Nicholas II) when they either fail to deploy their military effectively or cannot rely upon it when deployed. Tyrants like Mugabe or the Chinese leadership at Tiananmen or Saddam maintain an ultra loyal praetorian guard who get paid first, receive special privileges and equipment and are never prosecuted/above the law. They are happy to murder on a grand scale and the usually disarmed population cannot resist. (Ever wonder why we are disarmed?)

  8. Derek Buxton
    January 16, 2011

    Good article but our Sovereignty has not been taken from us, it was given away without our consent. You say that the will of the people must prevail but it no longer does any such thing and again by our own politicians actions. They should from the outset have informed the People of the full facts, that the EU was intended to be a single non democratic state, that was never done. In fact quite the opposite, the political class time after time repeated the lie that we were not giving up our Sovereignty, precisely as they were doing just that.

  9. alan jutson
    January 16, 2011


    Only difference between losing virginity and Sovereignty is that usually you agree to give up your virginity by choice, and once lost, it is lost forever.

    We seem to be losing our sovereignty without permission, although unlike virginity, we seem to be losing it bit by bit by bit over a period of time without much choice.

    Unlike virginity, Sovereignty could perhaps be claimed back by negotiation, by force, or by withdrawal from the EU, if we had the Will and desire.

    Looks like Mr Cameron was really putting the squeeze on his MP’s for the European vote last week if the reports in the papers are to be believed today.
    Shame on him and the sheep that followed.

    Clearly Mr Cameron does not (at the moment) like independent thinkers in his Cabinet, no surprise then that you are not around the table (yet).

    1. Britannia
      January 16, 2011

      They could take one’s virginity but once. That they keep coming back for more is what chastens – and they don’t even bother to kiss me anymore !

      1. alan jutson
        January 16, 2011


        No they have not taken it yet, we are still in the foreplay stages, they have taken some liberties with us, and are trying to go further, but the problem is, we are not saying no, stop it, get away, or thats not what I want, and we keep on buying them more and more drinks.

        Thus they think we are complient and open to manipulation, we are only showing to be a little hesitant, thus they will continue to try to go further, until either they get what they want, or we put a stop to it.

    2. Richard
      January 16, 2011

      Oh but the political class DO have permission to give away our sovereignty. Each time we vote for the LibLabCon we vote for pro-EU parties. We, the people, know that when we cast our votes, if we put a ‘X’ for a candidate from these parties we authorise them to hand over sovereignty to the EU.

      It’s such a shame that the likes of John Redwood, Bill Cash and Roger Helmer can’t do their duty by their country and resign from the Tories on this EU issue, but they won’t. They’ll just sit and moan from the sidelines but not actually do anything about it.

      Reply: If Eurosceptics resigned you would not have any one voting to strengthen the UK’s position in the Commons.

    3. Norman Dee
      January 17, 2011

      Did we lose our virginity by choice ?, as far as I remember Ted Heath was only giving us a lift to the shops, and we ended up getting systematically raped, and are now being held on a short lease in case the Eussr fancy another go at us.

  10. Alte Fritz
    January 16, 2011

    As usual, Mr R’s lucid statement of his own case illustrates the error in others’. It is clearly right to distinguish sovereignty and power, but without power, there can be no sovereignty, a different point entirely.

    We know that judges have a wholly different view of their role now than a generation ago. Through the Human Rights Act, Parliament has given judges the power to compel Parliament to change legislation. If Parliament were to repeal the Act, how certain are we that judges would hold that such repeal was lawful? In such case, what would a public body do? Obey the court or Parliament?

    The same question can be posed in relation to the EU’s role in making laws. The Scrutiny Committee found that academic evidence supported the view that Parliament retained the right to return to the status quo ante, but what if a court disagrees?

    There was a Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice Marshall struck down provision in the Indian Removal Act. President Johnson said, in effect, Mr Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it. Johnson asserted the supremacy of the legislature, but in all examples and hypotheses one returns to the question of power having to reside with authority. In the absence of power, authority is meaningless.

    Mr R’s choice of 1649 as a decisive point, if put to the question, well illustrates the point. We can trace the fiction of royal authority through to modern times, and look to Bagehot for the clearest of explanations of how things stood in his time.

    In our own time, we know that no government is likely to have the political will to put the matter to the test. There was opportunity to do so over the Lisbon Treaty. If we were truly sovereign, why not have held a referendum even after its ratification? Whilst I do not think that is as decisive a moment as 1649, it holds some claim to be seen as a tipping point.

    1. Alte Fritz
      January 16, 2011

      I should have said President Jackson.

    2. sjb
      January 17, 2011

      Alte Fritz wrote: “Through the Human Rights Act [“HRA”], Parliament has given judges the power to compel Parliament to change legislation.”

      Superior courts in England & Wales can only make a declaration of incompatibility with a Convention Right: see s4 HRA.
      It is then up to Parliament whether to remedy the offending legislation.

  11. Richard Thomson
    January 16, 2011

    “Many purists think sovereignty is like virginity. You either have it or you have lost it. I think this an unfortunate simile for it, but my view is closer to this positon than to the view that you can divide or share it.”

    I prefer the late Professor Neil MacCormick’s take on the virginity/sovereignty metaphor – you can give it away without someone else getting it, and given away in the right circumstances it’s a cause for celebration…

    1. Stuart Fairney
      January 16, 2011

      Hard to know how a lady can give away her virginity without someone else benefitting? Harder still to see the cause for celebration if no-one asks the lady in question if she wants to give it away or gets her consent? That would be rape and that’s the best metaphor I would suggest.

  12. Anoneumouse
    January 16, 2011

    I notice that a lot of commenters have picked up on the ‘virginity and Sovereignty’ issue.

    Then think of it this way………The British Government have been pimping there underage children to grown ups for personal gain.

    Andthen remember, The ‘mob’ has no political persuasion.

  13. Mike Rolph
    January 16, 2011

    Sadly Lifelogic the sentiment expressed in your final paragraph will be in vain. The situation is far worse since it is our own Government that is enabling the anti democratic process that is the EU. The election has changed nothing, in fact you could argue that the direction is not only the same, but that the pace has quickened. I know that I am not the only one who thinks that there is something rotten at the heart of government, the destruction of education, defence, and civil liberties does not happen by accident. The effete elites of all the main parties have an agenda totally at odds with the wishes of the electorate they patronize, and until the likes of John Redwood and Douglas Carswell are in the cabinet there is no Conservative party for me to vote for.
    Mr Redwood points out the the electorate are sovereign in the final analysis, let us hope that we don’t have to take it Tunisian style.

  14. Martin
    January 16, 2011

    Are we sovereign if we permit our political agenda to be set by a media which is owned by foreigners or uses tax havens?

  15. BobE
    January 16, 2011

    Everybody knows that a referendum putting any question of Europe to the people would result in a resounding NO. Which is why there will never be a referendum.
    I switched to UKIP last time, but I fear it is too late. The only real hope is if the Euro crashes and the poorer countries leave it.
    Region 6, Europe.

    1. sjb
      January 17, 2011

      You mean a question along the lines: “If a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union (EU) were held tomorrow, how would you vote?”

      A December 2010 poll found the following: 48% would leave, 27% would stay, 21% not sure, and 4% would not vote.
      ( interestingly among the 18-34 cohort more wish to stay than leave)

      But, of course, any referendum is likely to be proceeded by weeks of debate and “the pro-European coalition had to turn around hostile public opinion to win a decisive two-to-one victory in the June 1975 referendum. ”

  16. lola
    January 16, 2011

    He who wore the Crown might wear the sorrows, but the medieval monarch was the ultimate srouce of command, ………. manufacture the coins, ….

    And there’s yer problem. In fact, a lot of money in the 16th/17th/18th centuries was not made by the Sovereign at all, and all the better for it. But Sovereigns, like parliament, knowing a good thing for themselves when they see it, nationalised money and then set about deliberately debasing our money.

  17. David John Wilson
    January 16, 2011

    The problem with sovereignty is that the power is too far away from the people. Whether it lies with a British parliament or a European one makes little difference. What is needed is more effort to strengthen the democracy within the EU taking the powers away from the unelected. This needs to be matched with moves to bring more responsibilty closer to the people. Sovereignity without balanced representation and delegation is doomed to failure.

  18. Mike Stallard
    January 16, 2011

    Hang on here a minute!
    Sovereignty need not come from the people: that is a modern idea which only goes back to William and Mary and the Glorious Revolution. Even then there were many, many Tories who supported the Divine Right of Kings to rule under God. We still have the Coronation Service with the sacred anointing of the monarch to support that ancient idea.
    For Russian Communists, the raison d’etre of the Commissars under the Great Democrat was simple: modernisation of the State on its path towards inevitable, scientific Communism. This justified all sorts of criminal activities, humiliations and so on.
    With our very rude, unaccountable, corrupt, law-unto-themselves, unelected, second raters in the commission given virtual sovereignty over the whole of Europe, we are constantly offered the idea of European Peace after two world wars which justifies their existence and their sovereignty.
    The trouble is that our politicians and media are so out of touch with the rest of us that they go along with this outrage, leaving you and the other doubters and wreckers in the same position as the non Jurors – irrelevant.
    I shudder for the future when these rude barbarians take over. I really do.

    1. sjb
      January 17, 2011

      How many years of peace do you need to establish the idea is a reality, Mike? No Member State has gone to war against another Member State in 50+ years; contrast with the same period prior to the Treaty of Rome.

      Doesn’t the EU deserve any credit for bringing former Communist nations such as the Czech Republic and Poland into the EU family? If they had disintegrated like Yugoslavia wouldn’t we have inevitably been drawn into the conflict?

  19. Woodsy42
    January 16, 2011

    Isn’t this a bit like the Schr√∂dinger’s cat argument, that we don’t know whether we have held or ceeded sovereignty until we open the box? We need more certainty than that!
    Also I’m not sure of the comparison with virginity, except maybe insofar of virginity being finally lost after successive and increasingly ardent sessions of heavy petting from the EU suitor.

  20. backofanenvelope
    January 16, 2011

    Sovereignty is only worth having if you exercise it.

  21. Bazman
    January 16, 2011

    Sovereignty only applies to the little people. Sovereignty is wherever you lay your private jet. If you are a Russian oligarch or a London banker it is best to keep a cheap flat and a scrap car in Moscow or London so you can say you actually live there.( A non dom ed) could explain this one better. I bet he uses florescent bulbs and puts his own rubbish out for the bin men in (say)Monaco. I entirely sympathise with (the) cause of getting Concorde to fly to Monaco despite the state of the cutlery and the cheap wine during it’s last flights. A military supersonic plane would just be vulgar.

  22. Acorn
    January 16, 2011

    Sovereignty: in a democracy belongs to the people who hold the purse and think they control all the guys, in uniform, who have the guns. Power: is with the guys who actually have the guns. Revolution: the little guys who had no guns; get some guns and start shooting at the other guys with guns. Autonomy: the little guys put up the barricades around their communities and defend it with their new guns. At the same time, a bunch of other guys with guns say, whoopee, let’s get out there and get us some of those 60 inch plasma TV sets for free.

    Sovereignty. The state of having autonomous control of the guns and the money. (Tunisia: how to make the media think a military coup is a velvet revolution).

    BTW. Redwoodians; We all know we have a housing / land planning problem. So please read the following link. With luck, we will get JR going on this one.

  23. adam
    January 16, 2011

    I dont think the EU is sovereign either, I think the UN calls the shots

  24. oldtimer
    January 16, 2011

    A late entry to the comments and an attempt to discuss the difference between being a subject and a citizen.

    When the sovereign was King it could be said the people he ruled were his subjects. When the sovereign was Parliament, subject to the will of the electorate, did the people become citizens? I believe this to be so.

    Now that certain powers have been transferred to Europe, to be determined by majority voting by among European states, they are beyond the control of Parliament and of the people of the UK. In respect of these transferred powers, have not the citizens of the UK now become subjects again, subject to the will of others? I believe this to be so.

    The Plan, that fascinating book by Carswell and Hannon, argues cogently for the restoration of the supremacy of Parliament. In doing so we would again become citizens and cease to be subjects.

    1. bill bogg
      January 17, 2011

      Absolutely . Power is indivisible . The idea that constitutional powers can be divided between Europe and this country is a myth.

  25. Harry
    January 16, 2011

    Surely the best way to affirm the sovereignty of Parliament/the Corwn in Parliament, is to exercise it?

    I listened to the Commons debate and the excellent discussion around whether Parliament remained sovereign. On one side were those who said it was a self evident truth that Parliament was sovereign, it had always been so and still is. On the other side were those saying the judiciary and EU legislation overriding Parliament without challenge has eroded sovereignty.

    Your point about sovereignty transferring from the crown to Parliament over time is spot on. By the crown not exercising its sovereignty over time it can be said to have transferred. The same is true of Parliament in relation to the EU. What is the point of technical sovereingty if it is never exercised? On votes for prisoners, or any other issue – the CFP maybe – the government should ignore or legislate to block a ruling or disapply the EU legislation and assert its sovereignty.

  26. Henry Male
    January 17, 2011

    England was an independent unitary state for a very long time. Our conception of sovereignty is very clear cut. I suggest that this would not necessarily be the case for, say, one of the constituents of the Holy Roman Empire. A province of Prussia for instance would have had local allegiances, allegiance to the monarch and allegiance to the Emperor. Each of these statuses would have brought different rights and obligations with it. And Prussia itself was divided between provinces which formed part of the Empire and provinces which did not. This sort of historical experience would be typical for many – not all! – parts of modern Europe. Not to argue that Mr. Redwood is wrong, but that our viewpoint here may be unusually stark.

  27. Javelin
    January 17, 2011

    Have to disagree. The Monarch has lent their power but has kept the ultimate power of power itself. Until the Monarch explicitly signs away the power to bestow power, power rests with the Monarch. It may be unsavoury for the Monarch to withdraw power but they can if they like. The Monarch dissolves Parliament and announces their Acts. The National Anthem we all sing is an oath that they “rule over us”. We sign our ballot papers as contracts, as subjects and in this country all contracts can be overridden by law as we are subjects. It’s the basis of Tort law.

    The root problem for Parliament is their weakness is their strength. Often in life weakness is strength – deferring to “her indoors” or being paid reparation in court are two examples.

    1. Javelin
      January 17, 2011

      For parliamentarians to trumpet their own sovereignty without explicitly being passed it or taking it through regicide, is to assume that sovereignty is nothing but power and that is to deny such a thing as sovereignty exists at all.

      Remember this is why they had revolutions. The European citizens forget we are still subjects.

  28. bill bogg
    January 17, 2011

    A power structure is defined by its relationship to the other power structures in the society . The interlocking nature of these power structures creates a Constitution so continuity is possible because the relationship is clear. The power of the monarch or the Lord Chief Justice or the House of Lords can be passed from one generation to another
    But this isn’t what happens when we transfer powers to the EU . We are transferring powers to another alien entity . An entirely new power structure is created .
    It is impossible to predict what the powers of this new entity will be and as a result there can be no such thing as an EU constitution .
    A constitution is like a jigsaw . Each piece has a set boundary. The EU is like a jigsaw in which the pieces have no set boundaries some will grow and some will disappear altogether.
    Remember – the most powerful person in the Soviet Union hierarchy turned out to be the secretary -one Joseph Stalin and who would have predicted that ?

  29. Lindsay McDougall
    January 18, 2011

    Spot on, but you need to get the electorate to have the right mind set:
    (1) Bad decisions, including allowing excessive EU power, can be reversed.
    (2) There is no such thing as a Treaty that is forever.
    (3) No UK parliament can bind its successor.

    The background is indisputable:
    – The EU is an embrionic European Federation. If it walks like a duck and quacks, it’s a duck.
    – The Trojan horse is already inside the gates and the soldiers are pouring out.
    – So urgent action is needed.

    1. bill bogg
      January 20, 2011

      If we have a coalition then lets get something we can agree on

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