Wednesday, November 04, 2009

David Cameron on Europe

I thought it was a good speech this afternoon - he made good, pragmatic points in a respectful but forceful way. It really is too late to do anything about Lisbon, and it'll be in force in 26 days' time whether we like it or not. It won't have satisfied the "wets" or the UKIP nutters, but it's the only practical response.

And, yes, it'll be a very hard fight to get those three vetos - we'll need support of our partners in Europe, and undoubtedly some squaring will take place. As is traditional, you'll be able to recognise it because there will be absolutely no connection whatsoever between us supporting their pet policies and them supporting ours.

I started wondering about the Sovereignty Act, though. It seems like a very good idea - basic, straightforward, and in lieu of a constitution. We don't need a constitution, because Common Law is based on the principle that everything is legal unless specifically banned - the opposite of the Napoleonic Code where rights only exist because they're specifically granted.

The most obvious objection is based on the Factortame case, which "confirmed the supremacy of European Union law over national law in the areas where the EU has competence" as granted by the European Communities Act 1972. The ECJ said in 1990 that courts can strike down national laws; Lord Denning suggested that this applies only to accidental contradictions, and that Parliament is still sovereign. There are legal arguments to be made, of course, but there is one fundamental principle that makes them irrelevant: there is nothing the EU can do about it. If we declare our sovereignty, and choose not to follow EU Directives we don't like, what are the ramifications? To quote Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister:
"Well, Minister, in practical terms we have the usual six options: One, do nothing. Two, issue a statement deploring the speech. Three, lodge an official protest. Four, cut off aid. Five, break off diplomatic relations. And six, declare war."
Speeches and protests are, as ever, worthless. We're a net contributor to the EU, so they can't cut off aid. There can be no formal diplomatic relations with the EU before December, so we're hardly going to miss those, and trade sanctions cut both ways - we're a market as well as a supplier. Finally, even with the Lisbon Treaty, the EU doesn't have the power to set military policy or declare war. Basically, if (as a nation) we choose not to follow a Directive - assuming we don't then choose to allow ourselves to be punished for the transgression - there is nothing that can be done about it. Naturally, things wouldn't get that far - as in Italy and Spain and France, we'd just be allowed to get away with it.

I think there are a lot of benefits to close ties with Europe - (almost) free travel and working is good, and integrated continent-wide policies on agriculture/energy/education/healthcare/transport could bring obvious benefits. But that's not the same as having to obey every single law that comes out of Brussels, particularly ones that damage our society or economy. I look forward to the next government rolling back some of the more egregious European laws in the UK.

- KoW

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