ITV’s EU referendum debate – What we learn about sovereignty ?


The decision to stay or to leave the EU is seen to be the dividing issue between political parties, friends and families. The key aspects of debate are the issues of economy, migration, sovereignty and worker’s rights.

This week (before the unit 2 exam) saw a key TV ‘debate’, with Nigel Farage and David Cameron taking questions live from an ITV audience. But what can we learn from them about competing visions of UK ‘sovereignty’ ?

Sovereignty has been a prominent talking point of the referendum. A question was put to the PM: “Isn’t it shameful that parliament is no longer sovereign?” The argument from the Brexiteers is Parliament is no longer the highest legislative body, instead the EU makes laws that we have to follow. Cameron’s reply was to suggest ‘true sovereignty’ is about control. At the moment even if we left the EU we would still need access to the single market, this would mean that the UK would carry on being subject to rules and regulations but not be ‘at the table’ to write these rules. Cameron also claimed “We are engaged in the greatest act of sovereignty for many years”, that is to hold an in/out referendum. The issue of sovereignty is really one of theory and practice. In essence sovereignty has been draining away to devolved assemblies and regions for a long time, in practice Parliament can take this back if it so wished. Cameron maintains the UK is in full control and has shared sovereignty in order to achieve greater interests. Cameron tells one audience member that there will be a referendum lock if any plans are proposed to pass more power to Brussels and so the British people will always have a say. Through this form pseudo-entrenchment, the British public can be sure the UK would not sign up to further integration.

Farage’s take on sovereignty is to argue the opposite. We have lost all control, over our borders (security being a key facet of sovereignty) and over trade policy. He said, a vote for Brexit would allow “the UK to be able to take its seat on the world trade organisation” which is currently not allowed under EU treaties. He also questioned the ability “to remove EU jobseekers without a job after six months, our ability to stop foreign criminals walking into the UK, our ability to deport foreign criminals.” In his mind, any notion of sovereignty has been depleted. In practice, Britain has become a state within a United States of Europe.

Hannah Bašić

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