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25 February 2016

Financial Times: Boris Johnson is wrong. Parliament has the ultimate authority

How does a sovereign country make itself more sovereign by declaring itself, well, sovereign? - wonders Philip Stephens.

Boris Johnson has joined those arguing that the authority of parliament can be restored only if Britain quits the EU. The nation can then take back control of its destiny.

This is a beguiling pitch but the London mayor has a shaky grasp of Britain’s unwritten constitution. In or out of the EU, Westminster has always been sovereign.[...]

Never over-impressed by inconvenient detail, Mr Johnson is not alone in his confusion. To win over wavering sceptics to the In camp, David Cameron has promised a new law putting beyond doubt the sovereignty of the legislature. The prime minister is in the realm of tautology here. How does a sovereign parliament make itself more sovereign by declaring itself, well, sovereign?

Britain has long been a prolific signer of treaties and an energetic joiner of international institutions. [...]

Yet even as authority is delegated, the sovereignty of parliament remains unfettered. What Westminister devolves it can reclaim. International treaties and commitments bind Britain only in so far and for so long as a majority of parliamentarians so decide. Each and every one could be abrogated by a simple legislative act. Britain is free to leave the UN, quit Nato and renounce its human rights commitments whenever it so chooses.

The same is true of the EU. Membership of the union represents the most extensive and complex exercise in the delegation of authority to a supranational organisation. The European Court of Justice adds a dynamic legislative interpretation mostly absent elsewhere. The basic principle remains, however: the accession treaty can be revoked at the whim of parliament. [...]

Britain’s enthusiasm for such agreements is unsurprising. Its interests, economic and strategic, have for centuries been global. So are its vulnerabilities. [...]

What was true for an empire is all the more compelling for a significant European power seeking to navigate the age of 21st century global interdependence. The choice is not a binary one between sovereignty outside the EU and serfdom within but the hard-headed one about how to advance the prosperity and security of the nation. In the case of the EU what some consider a diminution of sovereignty is an addition to authority.

The prime responsibilities of government — safeguarding the security and liberty of the citizen and providing the framework for individuals to prosper — militate against the hoarding of sovereignty. The threats from nuclear proliferation, a revanchist Russia, Islamist terrorists, environmental degradation and international crime present one set of challenges; securing access to global trade, investment, and technological innovation another. None is susceptible to national unilateralism.

Full article in Financial Times


© Financial Times

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