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.