The continuing row over whether the Queen is in favour of Brexit is strange. Like any sovereign head of state – symbolic or otherwise – Her Majesty will have private views. It is almost inconceivable that she is a cheerleader for the anti-sovereignty ambitions of EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. It’s interesting that when Sir Nicholas Soames waded into the row, implying that the Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove (accused of being a source for the story), should lose his head as a “traitor”, he did not deny that the Queen was probably not a natural EU federalist.
Asking whether the head of our Royal Family would rather Britain was a self-governing sovereign nation or an island province of a federal European superstate ruled by unelected Brussels technocrat bankers and bureaucrats is not the real issue. It would be like asking King Charles I if he favoured the supreme ruling of the Commissioners of the High Court of Justice that tried the Crown in 1649.
As Stephen Glover fulminated in the Daily Mail, it would be pretty amazing if the Queen was a paid-up member of the pro-Brussels “Remain” camp. Glover noted that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) exists to challenge the very sovereignty which she symbolises. In addition, the ECJ is now the supreme authority of all European member states’ law and has “eroded” most Parliament power as well as the independence of British justice from the state.
The importance of this judicial independence from the executive powers of Parliament has been largely ignored in the Brexit debate. Yet an understanding of Britain’s unique constitutional doctrine of the “Separation of Powers” is crucial if one is to understand what is really at stake on June 23.
The Commons crossbench table on which sits the Mace remains the high altar of the concept of sovereignty. British parliamentary politics and religion still have things in common. Namely that ritual, symbol and ceremony is important to understanding where the true source of all authority lies.
Unlike on the Continent, where the legal system, education and banks are controlled by the state, in Britain such institutions are independent. They are autonomous and self-governing. The 5ft Mace – a gilt club carried before the sovereign on state occasions – is a symbol of the ultimate sovereign authority from where parliamentary power resides. It is also a reminder of the first Parliament, which stripped the king of autocratic authority and replaced it with a system in which the ranks of medieval “barons” were given independent power over their lands in return for serving the king.
Without the Mace present in the Commons chamber, no laws can be passed. That is what is meant by sovereignty. And the only way to reclaim our sovereignty is to leave the EU. For the Remain camp, of course, sovereignty is no great matter. We live in the age of “pooled sovereignty”. We lost it years ago with the signing of the European Single Act.
But the concept of national “sovereignty” can be difficult for many fellow EU member states to understand, especially those that have never had a monarchy, let alone a form of sovereign parliament since the 13th century, and a Bill of Rights Act passed in 1689 after the Restoration of Charles II. The principles enshrined in that Bill of Rights include the Crown delegating its sovereign authority to Parliament through elections which require the consent of the British voting public – as represented by MPs.
David Cameron must have had an interesting weekly audience with Her Majesty after he went on The Andrew Marr Show and said that British sovereignty outside the EU would be “an illusion”. He repeated this in the Commons, arguing that sovereignty today was a political delusion, parroting the sort of pro-big business, pro-free movement, pro-same-sex marriage and liberal elite propaganda that has led to “globalisation” becoming the new corporate
religion that has little respect for ideas of sovereignty.
Cameron and Osborne’s Referendum rally cry is to create a consumerist EU empire. Yet freedom of movement drives down UK working wages so much that at an Ocado distribution centre I visited last year, I saw a payslip from a full-time shelf-stacker of just £980 a month.
The Prime Minister likes to say that “influence” is more important today than sovereignty. Yet this is a self-defeating and elitist position. Britain has almost no influence in Brussels because of the “Qualified Majority Voting Principle” which came in after 1986. Every time Britain tries to have any influence, it gets out-voted by the 27 other member states. Look what happened when Cameron tried to blackball Juncker’s appointment as Commission president. Despite bringing up Juncker’s drinking and his being a master architect of the Maastricht Treaty, Cameron was rebuffed.
The problem with using the word “sovereignty” is that so few actually know what the word means. Alas, when politicians want to explain the concept of parliamentary sovereignty today, they have to use code phrases like “take our country back” or “take control of our borders”. Cameron, of course, as a former pupil at Brasenose College, Oxford of the eminent constitutional historian Vernon Bogdanor, knows exactly what sovereignty means. He is a PR man by profession, so spin is his métier. But for an Oxford man with a first-class degree in PPE to describe the concept of sovereignty as “to get things done” is just not good enough. Beta double minus.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund