Britain cannot restore its sovereignty if Remainers are allowed to restrict Brexit

Britain cannot restore its sovereignty if Remainers are allowed to restrict Brexit

When Charles I burst into the House of Commons in 1642 to demand the arrest of the Five Members, he trumpeted, ‘since I see all the birds are flown, I do expect from you that you will send them unto me as soon as they return hither.’

Such an overreach of power was the starting gun for the great British military battle that was to ensue over the next eight years, before finally reaching its constitutional denouement in the twenty years after 1688.

But Charles’s ill-fated breach into the Commons was not merely one political overstretch, it was symptomatic of the way he had been governing for at least the previous 13 years.

The story should seem at least tangentially familiar. An overreach of executive power that gives rise to a constitutional struggle. 375 years later we’re at again.

On Wednesday night, the Brexit bill passed its second reading overwhelmingly. We should see the bill for what it is: Parliament giving its authority for the Prime Minister to begin formal negotiations on our leaving the European Union.

Listening to the caterwauling over the past couple of days, and surveying the amendments already tabled, one does think that Remain-supporting MPs are trying to return us hither.

Take the issue of the single market. There was nothing that crystalised my view to vote leave on June 23rd more than the issue of the single market. Every day I went to work in Parliament, I would open the order paper only to see a handful of EU statutory instruments being nodded through to enforce onerous regulations on British businesses, 95 per cent of whom didn’t sell into the single market. The protestations of the European Scrutiny Committee fell on deaf ears.

According to the House of Commons library, over half of all our legislation now emanates from the EU, with 59% being implemented either by statutory instrument, the main legislative mechanism for single market integration via EU directives, or directly into UK law as EU regulations, with no ratification by our Parliament for either of these. A constant, seeping loss of sovereignty.

Altiero Spinelli was one of the chief architects of the single market through both the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty. He said that if a “post war order is established in which each State retains its complete national sovereignty, the basis for a Third World War would still exist.”

In other words, one of its founding principles was the eradication of the nation state.

The loss of comparative regulatory and tax advantage that a country can leverage to its economic advantage seems not to have worried many Remainers. Although sovereign countries are free to set their own macroeconomic framework, they are not in the single market, which is surely the real prize.

Only, not quite. Trade with the European Union has been waning for years. In 1999, UK exports to the EU were around 61%; they are now around 44% and expected to fall to 35% by 2025. As a study by Civitas last year demonstrated: “the UK’s exports have grown and benefitted least during the Single Market, while those of non-member OECD countries have grown and benefitted most.”

This should be no real surprise given that services are not included in around half of the EU’s 53 Free Trade Agreements. Services are 80% of the UK economy.

The single market is the EU, and it comes with the ‘four freedoms’. Indeed, the single market is referenced as the ‘internal market’ in the treaties. It may suit other countries to sit in the EU’s antechamber known as the European Economic Area (EEA), but as we’ve seen, the single market is a diminishing export market, which doesn’t prioritise the strengths of the British economy.

According to the most detailed surveys conducted after the referendum, the primary reason people were voting to leave the EU was ‘the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK’. The single market relies upon the legislative machinery of the European Union, justiciable under the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EEA countries rely on the case law of the ECJ, whilst accepting thousands of laws in which they’ve had no say. We know the character of the British people. And, we’ve been here before.

Just as in the 1640s, last June the British people bravely rebelled against overreaching executive power. Now, ironically, if Parliament ties the government up with a restrictive Brexit bill, Parliament will have played the part of King Charles.

If, however, Parliament allows the executive to disentangle us from the straitjacket of an overreaching executive power, the birds will have flown, not to have been returned hither. The British people will have been the victor: brave, proud, sovereign, and free.