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Published on August 5th, 2013 | by Nathan Wilson
Image © Taken at Fairfield Waters Townsville Qld.© 2010 I retain Copyright.


EU not overly influential on UK Sovereignty therefore Britain should remain in the union

Britain has been a member of the European community since 1973 but it appears as though the majority of Brits have had enough of the European project. Indeed most polls seem to indicate that the majority of Brits would rather leave the EU than remain a member state. This has led to Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron pledging to renegotiate Britain’s membership within the EU with our European partners. An in/out referendum will take place regardless of whether or not he is successful in these negotiations if his party win a majority at the 2015 General Election.

Contrary to what most Brits believe the EU does not have quite the stranglehold over British
Parliamentary Sovereignty as those who want the country to quit it would have you believe.
Although it is clear that there are some drawbacks. Such as the fact that a wide array of British law must now conform to EU regulations, otherwise it will be struck down by the European Court of Justice.

Despite this Britain has been extremely resistant over the years in giving powers away to Brussels. The country has consistently been able to obtain opt-outs and maintained it’s principle of ‘red lines’. This means that the British way of coming to agreements with its EU partners is conditional on the basis that the issue being discussed is in line with its domestic policy agendas.

This was illustrated with devastating clarity in 2008 with the signing of the Lisbon treaty. On the whole the UK was supportive of this treaty, which has enhanced the EU’s policy effectiveness in areas such as security, energy and fighting crime. It has also fought to maintain traditional British ‘red lines’ and was able to keep Westminster in charge of key areas such as justice and home affairs, tax, foreign policy, defence and social security. The UK also retained its special opt-outs related to freedom, security and justice policies.
Therefore this example suggests that as long Britain can maintain its opt-outs and red lines, then the EU’s influence over UK parliamentary sovereignty is not hugely significant.

Once we have got our head around this, it is possible to focus more on the positives of membership rather than the negatives and to see that Britain’s best interests lie in remaining a member state. Indeed membership of the European Union provides Britain with many
benefits. For example, the government recently published six reports covering areas such as the single market, taxation and foreign policy. The reports revealed that Britain’s access to the EU market, which is comprised of 500 million people, means that Britain’s GDP is noticeably better than what it would be if the UK were not in the EU. While this report did not give any figure for the increase in economic output, it did make reference to six other studies, five of which said that membership was worth up to 6.5 per cent in extra GDP. If these numbers are accurate, then this is a pretty significant difference given the bleak economic times that we are currently in.

Moreover those who want to leave Europe highlight that it is likely that Britain would retain strong trading links to EU countries, citing example countries, who have been successful while remaining outside the EU. These include Norway and Switzerland, who both have access to the single market but are not bound by EU laws on agriculture, fisheries, justice and home affairs. However Norway and Switzerland have to abide by many EU rules without having influence over how they are formed. That is the price Britain would have to pay should the country leave the EU but retain its European trading networks. From this perspective it does not seem wise for Britain to leave the EU and still be subject to certain rules without having any control or say on just what exactly these rules are and what their impact will be. Britain’s exports would also be subject to EU export tariffs and we would still have to meet EU production standards.

In addition membership of the EU remains critical to Britain’s standing as a major global player. While the country would still be a member of NATO, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and nuclear power, it is clear that America and other allies want to Britain to stay in the EU. Britain would jeopardize its special relationship with the USA as they like Britain being their sort of representative in Europe. Therefore Britain may be considered irrelevant in Washington, and as Nick Clegg said ‘a pygmy in the world’. While there is no guarantee this would happen it does create the impression that Britain leaving the
EU and becoming isolated in a globalized world, with Russia re-emerging as a powerful force and the rising power of Brazil, India and most importantly China, is simply not worth the risk.

Overall then, as long as Britain is able to maintain their opt-outs and ‘red lines’ then the EU’s influence over the country is limited. Add this to the economic benefits in particular, and the importance of the EU for Britain’s global status, then the country’s best interest lie in remaining apart of the union despite its many deficiencies.

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About the Author

Nathan Wilson

Nathan is an undergraduate politics student at the University of Strathclyde. He is mainly interested in British politics but also has an interest in certain international and global issues particularly globalization.

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