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Brexit: "Taking back control"?

Mike McCartney

27th January 2021

A couple of quite good articles recently about the extent to which leaving the EU has enhanced UK sovereignty

The A Level Politics syllabus asks us to consider the impact of the EU on UK government and politics. But now we have ended the transition period and signed a post-Brexit trade agreement, there is really only one essay question in town. And it goes something like this: "Exiting the EU has greatly enhanced UK sovereignty." Analyse and evaluate the statement. Or something to that effect.

And the arguments for and against would, I expect, go something like this. Briefly. I'm not writing the whole essay here.

There a number of ways in which we could consider sovereignty to have been greatly enhanced.

  • The UK's loss of legal sovereignty will be overcome. Brexit campaigners argued as much as 80% of our laws came from Brussels
  • The European Court of Justice overrode UK institutional sovereignty and this can no longer happen - think of citing Factortame here
  • Exiting the EU will end the democratic deficit where policy was decided by the unfair process of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV)
  • Economic sovereignty will be restored since leaving the single market allows Britain to trade freely and not be hamstrung by EU rules, eg on state aid
  • Brexit allows the UK to plough its own furrow on agriculture, fishing and social policy
  • Britain will no longer be dragged into a European Super-state (if it isn't one already)

There a number of ways in which we could consider sovereignty to have not been greatly enhanced.

  • The number and impact of Brussels-made law has always been overstated, ie 80% was always an exaggeration
  • Major areas of domestic policy always remained free from EU control - health, education, income tax rates, to name just a few
  • Exiting the EU will still leave a legacy of limits on trade
  • There was no democratic deficit. Most EU institutions were responsive to British input, eg elections to the European Parliament
  • UK sovereignty was not eroded by membership (and neither is the national sovereignty of current member states), but enhanced. The theory of 'pooled sovereignty' is relevant here.
  • The spectre of a European Super-state, or plans to create some sort of United States of Europe has always been nightmare vision propagated by Britain's right-wing press. But not one wedded to reality

So there we are. If you have already considered the arguments above, you may want to read the articles below. If you haven't, you may consider them as a way in to deeper consideration of the topic.

Andrew Rawnsley writes:

"You will recall that it was one of the Brexiters’ signature promises that departure from the EU would be a liberating moment. A buccaneering free trade Britain would flourish as wealth creators were unshackled from the stifling regulatory chains of Brussels. What Brexit has actually done is impose a vast amount of cumbersome and costly new bureaucracy on exporters and importers. British companies have been put in a chokehold of regulations, customs declarations, conformity assessments, health and rules-of-origin certifications, VAT demands and inflated shipping charges. While some ministers talk about reducing worker protections in the name of “cutting red tape”, a move for which there is little demand even from employers, Brexit is ensnaring British businesses in writhing snakes of the stuff. I guess Jacob Rees-Mogg, he who thinks that fish unable to reach EU markets are “happier” knowing they are British, will claim that struggling British exporters should be patriotically proud to be throttled by red, white and blue tape."

See the full article here:

From William Keegan:

Now, the fishing industry was told by Michael Gove’s gang that the deal had increased its share of the catch entitlement in UK fishing waters by two thirds, whereas Tim Harford and his admirable BBC Radio 4 programme about statistics, More or Less, has established that the actual figure is 8%. No wonder Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office, has “had enough of experts”: they check up on the Brexiters’ mendacious claims.

Read the article in full here:

And I'll leave it up to readers of this blog to arrive at their own conclusion to the question.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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