The Impact of the EU on the UK
The Common Fisheries Policy: the aim of this was to preserve fish stocks, by introducing a quota of the amount of fish that could be caught. This created controversy in the UK over the Factortame case. UK law was that, in order to fish in UK waters, fishing boats needed to have a majority British crew (this was to protect British fishing boats from competition). This conflicted with the EU law that EU member states had equal access to each other’s waters. A Spanish fishing company argued that they were unlawfully being prevented from fishing in UK waters, and the European Court of Justice (backed up by the Law Lords) ruled in favour of the Spanish company. In addition, grievances were raised over the fact that fish had to be thrown back into the sea to meet quotas.
The Social Chapter: this was part of the 1991 __Maastricht Treaty and aimed to establish guaranteed rights for workers, for example, equal rights for full and part-time workers, entitlements to parental leave and paid holidays. John Major refused to sign the UK up to this, fearing that businesses would be disadvantaged. Tony Blair did adopt the Social Chapter in __1997, but did not want to sign up to future expansion of EU social policy, to strike a balance between workers’ and business freedoms and rights.
Impact of the EU on the UK’s political system and policy-making
- Profile of the PM has been heightened, as they attend European Council meetings. Cameron was very visible in renegotiating the terms of UK EU membership
- The foreign secretary also attends European Council, and Council of the EU meetings, raising their profile. Other ministers responsible for policy affected by the EU are also involved in negotiations with their counterparts. Mostly ministers rely on the work of the civil servants working for the EU (COREPER)
- A committee on European affairs has been set up for cabinet members to develop UK policy towards the EU, coordinating the work of government departments
- Parliament must examine EU laws, and proposed legislation from the EU must be reviewed by the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, although the amount of EU legislation makes this difficult to perform effectively
- Some policy areas affected by the EU are now devolved to regional institutions. The UK Parliament therefore consults with devolved governments in policy-making in these areas
- The above relationship is set to change due to Brexit. Negotiations will take place over the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and there have been divisions amongst ministers and MPs as to what those terms should be. Eurosceptics favour a ‘hard Brexit’, which would see the UK give up full access to the single market and customs union (meaning tariffs would be introduced when trading with other countries), and have complete control over its borders. Others favour a ‘soft Brexit’, where the UK would give up its seats and MEPs on EU institutions, but retain access to the single market, meaning that the ‘four freedoms’ would have to be retained.
- The issue of Scottish independence has been raised again by the Brexit vote, as the majority of Scotland voted to remain in the EU. The SNP has sad that Scotland should not be taken out of the EU against the wishes of its people, and that the only way for Scotland to have EU access is for it to become an independent country. However, calls for ‘indyref2’ were weakened by the decline in SNP support in the __2017 __general election.
- The EU has power over some policy areas, but not others. For example, trade, the single market, social and employment, agriculture and fisheries, and environmental policy is the preserve of the EU, or at least the EU negotiating with member states. Areas such as defence, taxation, healthcare and education remain the exclusive preserve of the UK.
The above factors have led to two alternative conclusions about the EU and its impact on the UK. Those who feel that the EU has impacted the UK negatively suggest that membership has led to a loss of national sovereignty, the lack of ability to control the nation’s borders (and therefore a rise in net migration), restricted possible trading opportunities with non-EU states, and handed over control over several policy areas to the EU. These views led to the demands for a referendum on membership, leading to the __2016 __referendum. The alternative view of the EU is that, by pooling sovereignty, the UK is strengthened, and that in a globalised interconnected world this is the sensible direction for the UK to take. In addition, the EU has guaranteed important rights for workers and has established safety standards for products, and that, by being part of the single market, the prosperity of the UK is strengthened.
- Evaluate the view that membership of the EU has limited parliamentary sovereignty. (30 marks - at least 3 arguments for, 3 against)
- Your answer should include: Policy / Override / ECJ / Pooling / Sovereignty / Leaving / Unaffected
The location of sovereignty in the UK political system
Legal sovereignty: This term refers to who or what has supreme (unchallengeable) law-making authority in a state. The body which has the power to issue final commands in the form of laws is the legal sovereign in a state. Historically in the UK, legal sovereignty lay with the monarch, but it has now transferred to Parliament. Legal sovereignty is defined by constitutional law.
Political sovereignty: this sits above legal sovereignty. In a democracy, the electorate is the political sovereign. Dicey suggested, “behind the legal sovereign that the lawyer recognizes, there is another sovereign to whom the legal sovereign must bow.” In a democracy such as the UK, the legal sovereign (Parliament) receives its authority from the electorate (through being democratically chosen and so reflecting the wishes of the people). Parliament is therefore accountable to the electorate for its actions. Parliament makes laws on the basis of the policy approved by the electorate, and the electorate has the right to elect a new Parliament at regular intervals.