January 1, 2021


What does sovereignty mean in the age of Brexit? (Rupert Gather, 1/01/20, CapX)

Finally they got it. In the end the EU team realised that Brexit wasn't a dumb, dry economic calculation by deluded Brits, but was about the desire to become an 'independent coastal state', with all the risks and opportunities that entails. Ursula von der Leyen however, having belatedly identified the stick, firmly grasped the wrong end of it. Only late in the day, with Brexit upon us, did she identify sovereignty as the key driver of the 2016 referendum result, whilst claiming nonetheless that real sovereignty is about "pooling our strength and speaking together".

She was right to suggest that sovereignty is an abstract concept. True, it has a legal structure and can often be born out of physical boundaries defined by an island, river, desert or mountain range. But really it is about the feelings of the people who live within a particular jurisdiction. The emotional attachment that this engenders, the love of the sovereign nation, is how we define patriotism -- and where the EU struggles.

We have to be cautious not to confuse love for one's own country with hostility to others. As Voltaire said "it is lamentable that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind"

America redefined sovereignty as democratic legitimacy in 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

But the one area where national sovereignty may have to yield to a transnational authority and rules is in trade, if your nation seeks to enforce trading rules against others.   To the extent that the original united Europe was just such a free trade scheme Brits could abide it. But when regulations adopted remotely began to be applied domestically there was little chance of their accepting its continuance.  The most important thing now is for them not to trend towards the antagonistic nationalism that reflects the weakness of a people but to maintain an open society that exploits the economic benefits of the free movement of goods and peoples. 

Posted by at January 1, 2021 8:51 AM