How EU membership has transformed the constitution

thumbnail_Prof Patrick Birkinshaw MSP_1891 copythumbnail_Varney_M MSP_3893

A timely new book examines the implications and consequences of a British exit from the European Union. In this post Patrick J. Birkinshaw and Mike Varney summarise the first chapter, which discusses how our EU experience has changed our notion of sovereignty. They argue that, even if the UK leaves the EU, the effects of decades of European influence would not be reversed and there would be no return to a pre-1972 prototype.

Will Brexit restore sovereignty? This is the question at the heart of our chapter that introduces the recently published Britain Alone! The Implications and Consequences of United Kingdom Exit from the EU. Voters will no doubt be motivated by the widest variety of factors in how they vote. Sober judgement and mature reflection have not been assisted by an absence of informed debate on the major principles and values at issue. The Prime Minister’s frantic negotiations leading to the Best of Both Worlds paper in February 2016, as required under the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which sets out the advantages of remaining in the EU with a ‘special status’ ensuring that the UK will not be a part of a ‘European super-state’, probably represents the best outcome for a member state that has long been semi-detached to the European project. Whether it will sway many voters is another matter.

Restoration of sovereignty may well feature in a large number of voters’ thinking – it is a commonplace among Brexit supporting politicians: not being bossed about, controlling our own laws and borders, controlling the public purse, not being a part of an alienating globalisation process. But it seemed to us that sovereignty as a constitutional legal concept needed to be unpacked. Our focus is on the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament as a legislator.

Continue reading