In our quest to follow and explore the arguments over the EU
referendum, our attention turns to sovereignty and democracy. Can we unravel
what they mean and more importantly, what they mean to us?

These could be treated as different topics but it will
hopefully become apparent in this piece why both should be considered together.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines sovereignty as “supreme
power or authority”. In simple terms, in any given community, who decides? National
sovereignty is therefore “the authority of a state to govern itself or another

is a parliamentary democracy, therefore, Parliament decides on policy and law.
We also have a constitutional monarchy, the monarch being a non-political figure,
personifying the state as nominal head of the constitution. This brings other
bodies with an influence over how a country operates under one umbrella.

At local level, Britain has councils, organised on
a geographical basis, typically by town, city or county. These have power to
apply local taxes and deliver local services. The decision makers represent
voters who elect them in or out over a fixed term.

At national level, Parliament decides, again representatives
being elected and capable of being dismissed after a maximum period of 5 years,
which brings us to democracy, which is defined as “a system of government by
the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through
elected representatives”.

There is another part of the constitution or the state,
which is the legal system which provides an element of certainty in how
government decisions are enacted. In the event of any disputes under democratic
law, a court will decide how the law should be interpreted.

There are a variety of courts in the legal system, relating
to different areas of law; such as criminal and civil which is further
subdivided into, for example, family and employment. After legal decisions have
been made, in each area of law, an appeal can be made, the ultimate British
body since 2009 being the Supreme Court. Prior to 2009, ultimate responsibility
for interpretation was the House of Lords.

Having identified the systems pertinent to Britain, we can
explore how the principles of sovereignty and democracy have changed.

Any community can share sovereignty or how to allocate the
ability to make a decision. Residents of a county are also residents of Britain.
Although legal systems exist in the United Kingdom, there is one
parliament and one Supreme Court.

As members of NATO, we agree to act in each others interests
militarily, as defined by treaty. As such we share or pool sovereignty in some
areas with NATO members. The same applies as members of the United Nations in
agreeing to international law.

In principle, sharing sovereignty with the European Union is
the same. The big difference comes in the scope of decisions to be made. To
understand how, a brief look at history helps.

In 1972, Britain
joined the European Economic Community, a
customs union which had abolished tariffs between member states. By 1979, the
first directly elected European parliament was formed, more of which later.

The Single European Act came about in 1986, setting out a
framework for completion of the Single Market 5 years later. This had the
effect of weakening the parallel European Free Trade Area (EFTA) encouraging wider

At the same time, European Political Cooperation (EPC) was
codified extending the reach to other policy areas and Qualified Majority
Voting (QMV) to more areas, ostensibly to speed up the introduction of
legislation. A lurch to common foreign policy accompanied.

More treaties brought more shared sovereignty. Maastricht (1992)
introduced the path towards monetary union, along with European citizenship,
foreign and security policies too. Amsterdam
(1997) and Nice (2002) went further.

The Lisbon Treaty (2009) was the latest stage. At first this
included an attempt to bring an EU constitution until referenda blocked that
objective. However, it brought the European Union structure to what it is

Amongst the Lisbon Treaty measures, QMV was extended to at
least 45 different policy areas for the Council of Ministers. The Charter of
Fundamental rights became legally binding. Sovereignty became shared in more

So how does this look in practice?

Laws are effectively put forward by the European Commission
which equates to the civil service in Britain. The difference is that in Britain, the
elected politicians frame legislation, with the support of the civil service.
Commissioners are appointed from across the EU. Jobs are rotated around the

The Council is a collection of government ministers from
each state, the prime ministers or departmental ministers. Their decisions are
made largely by QMV. Decisions have to be agreed by at least 15 out of 28 members representing at least 65% of member populations. Here, Britain has 12.7% of voting power, the Eurozone has 67%.

The role of the European Parliament is to vote on new laws
proposed, effectively having the right of veto. They also have powers over the
EU budget.

The EU also has its own court which can override national
law for members. Its judgements are passed down into national law. This makes Britain’s the Not So Supreme Court.

The EU’s responsibilities are defined by ‘competences’, some
are exclusive to the EU, such as fisheries policy, aspects of the customs
union, monetary policy for the Euro zone and international agreements.

Others are shared with member states, including notably
justice, consumer protection, agriculture, employment, foreign security and
defence policies. Supporting (and coordinating) competences include health,
culture and education.

Between them, the Commission, European Court and Council pass down
around 2,500 directives and decisions annually.

The same sort of principle applies when looking at different
aspects of the EU. Britain
is a country whose economy has a high degree of service base, low degree of
agriculture in comparison and a significant element of oil and gas. On each of
those criteria, Britain
will not be in a significant majority for the foreseeable future so can be

Looking at how democratic the European Parliament is, there
is s higher weighting for smaller countries. That translates into Britain having
12.3% of the EU population and 9.8% of the vote in the European Parliament, not
so bad perhaps.

From a different perspective, Britain has 1 seat for every 840,000
of her population. For each MEP from Luxembourg
or Malta,
they represent less that 1/10th of that figure at around 75-80,000.

The figure looks worse when taking yet another view that of
the net budget contribution. Remembering that figure of our population being
12.3% of the population, our gross contribution is around 10.6% of the total EU
budget. Expenditure in the UK
is around 5.4% of the budget, making us net contributors.

Of the net financial contribution, Britain
accounts for around 14% in return for that 9.8% vote. The level of EU taxation
does not correspond with our level of representation, nor does it represent the
level of our population. We are in no position to insist on change.

Adding another dimension, there are a number of majorities
in the European parliament, most notably the Eurozone but also in countries
with who we operate a trade deficit, countries without oil, countries without
the same level of services and countries with less access to the sea. Most European
trade is done over land with implications to our fisheries and to haulage
regulations which also covering shipping.

A significant proportion of British laws are made in the EU where we have
less than 10% of the power.

The democratic deficit is very real. Our choice is whether
we continue to share, or decide to regain sovereignty. This referendum campaign
gives the opportunity to assess whether the sacrifice of self-determination is
worth whatever benefit we derive.