A short response to Owen Jones

Here’s Owen Jones on why he “accepts the EU referendum result.” It’s a good piece, there is much to agree with.

But it is important to be clear on what “accepting the EU referendum result” actually means. Clearer than he is.

The result does dictate that that we leave the EU. It dictates that unless public opinion decisively turns. And that is why I have consistently said I would have voted to trigger Article 50.

But although the result was that we should leave the EU the result told us little about what that means. Theresa May took over six months to decide she wanted to leave the Single Market. And longer still to decide she wanted to leave the Customs Union. These were her choices. There are countries outside the EU but inside the Single Market and it is likely that the UK could leave the EU but remain in the Customs Union.

They are incredibly important choices for the future of our country. They were not dictated by the Referendum. They are choices made by our political leaders. If our leaders pretend they are dictates of the Referendum our leaders lie to us.

I wish Owen – writing on a day when Jeremy Corbyn pretended that leaving the EU meant we had to leave the Single Market – had not ignored these choices. What do you say to that pretence, Owen? What do you say to the choices Corbyn has made? And what do you say to the huge majority of Labour voters who disagree with them? What do you say to the majority of the electorate who would not sacrifice their economic health to restrict free movement?

There are other criticisms too. Perhaps the most important is this.

It demeans us to pretend the risks to democracy are one way. To pretend they run from ignoring the result but not from delivering it. To pretend it is without risk to democracy to promise there would be no downside to Brexit and then deliver inflation and falling real wages, weak economic growth or recession, disinvestment and prospective joblessness, weakened public finances with jeopardy to the NHS, a Hard Border in Ireland and the list goes on.

If your intention is to protect democracy you seek a path that acknowledges and limits these downsides. You do not pretend that the future of democracy involves giving the electorate what it was persuaded to vote for and giving it to them hard.

Finally, as I said above, the Referendum result is that we should have Brexit unless public opinion decisively turns. We must listen. If the electorate comes to think that what it wanted from Brexit it will not get from Brexit it must be heard. 

This is the only control on the dishonest conduct of a Referendum that our politics can offer. In a General Election you kick out a Government that breaks its Manifesto promises. But if the sanctity of a Referendum result survives both the lies told to deliver it and a public coming to understand it had been misled we have no functioning democracy at all.

So we must hope that Labour delivers its Manifesto promise on Parliament having a meaningful vote on the Final Deal. 

Owen was silent on this promise yesterday but to live the values his article espoused he must be vocal on it tomorrow. And Labour will not be able to deliver on that promise unless it amends Clause 1(1) of the Repeal Bill in the Autumn. Let us hope Labour, and Owen, protects democracy by fighting to deliver its Manifesto pledge.

46 thoughts on “A short response to Owen Jones

  1. Both Owen’s piece and Jo’s response are good. The logical response to the latter (which I offer for sake of argument, not because it’s mine) is that staying in the Single Market and Customs Union, with all that choice implies, doesn’t really constitute “leaving” the EU. The deeper point is that we are now in a situation to which there is NO good solution. Whatever choices are made next (and I favour Jo’s) we will be left with a huge toxic mess, and it will take a lot of good will and good policy to clean it up. The foundation of this has to be an end to austerity and a fairer economy. Everything will follow from this, or its absence.

  2. Thank you for your post. My take on this is that there is a bellwether disease attending an era change and that Brexit is simply a symptom http://www.drt.global/corporate

  3. “The result does dictate that that we leave the EU.”

    No. The result ADVISED the government that 52% of those who voted thought we should leave the EU. The duty of MPs was to consider that advice, and the pros and cons of leaving, and then DECIDE if we should leave.

    I shouldn’t have to remind YOU of this, Jolyon!

  4. Jolyon. You rightly say “Finally, as I said above, the Referendum result is that we should have Brexit unless public opinion decisively turns.”
    That means treatsing the referendum result as only a ‘starting gun’.
    There should have been formal Go/NoGo checkpoints through the negotiation period, like any other risky project. Instead we have the various Brexit bills going through Parliament, the first of which is debated when the Commons resumes in early September.
    True democracracy is to let our elected representatives debate this and later bills and if necessary say stop. By September public opinion may indeed have decisively turned.

  5. I’m afraid I can’t really agree that the consequences for the single market and customs union weren’t (at least politically) dictated by the referendum result.

    Whatever your view of the conduct of the referendum campaign, there is little serious doubt that the vote was based on sovereignty, immigration, financial contributions and freedom to conduct our own trade negotiations.

    I think one has to look at the aspects of EU membership that would be retained by remaining in the SM/CU (EU law taking precedence, freedom of movement, contributions, trade negotiations limited or impossible). Can it honestly be said that the referendum result was a decision to keep these things and lose participation in the institutions? Was the referendum result a decision to jettison only those other aspects of EU membership not bound up in the SM/CU, which barely featured in the campaign?

    As lawyers we like to examine all options and find solutions. Sadly some of these are politically irrational.

  6. Jon, there’s polling data that points to a different interpretaion – possibly the interpretation was inaccurate from the start, or possibly people have started to change their minds. I am thinking of the consistent majority in favour of a ‘soft’ Brexit, evidenced most recently in the Yougov poll for the Economist, reported there this weekend, which found 52% in favour of soft, 44% in favour of hard. This has been echoed in previous polls, for example https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/06/15/majority-favour-pushing-brexit-many-are-tempted-so/ (43% hard, 47% soft or remain) and https://www.businessinsider.nl/survation-poll-shows-public-is-overwhelmingly-opposed-to-hard-brexit-2017-6/?international=true&r=UK (27% hard, 62% soft).
    Another interesting poll result is that half of Leave voters would not be willing to take any financial loss in order to see Brexit through https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/10/poll-public-will-not-accept-brexit-worse-off-tim-farron-ukip-lib-dem-yougov . This suggests a reason for a mind change towards soft or no Brexit, as people come to realise that a hard Brexit will cause a significant financial hit.
    We can’t know with certainty why people voted for Leave in the referendum, because the question was a blunt yes/no. It’s reasonable to be guided by evolving opinion from other sources.

  7. Could some please amplify Jo’s point that Clause 1(1) of the repeal bill needs amending if Parliament is to have a meaningful vote on the final dea

  8. *deal*

  9. I missed Corbyn’s statement that leaving the EU means that we have to leave the Single Market. I did hear Caryn Jones say that we could push for full access along the lines of the Norway model, but this wouldn’t count as membership because we wouldn’t be involved in seeing the detailed rules.
    So long as we get full frictionless access, i guess the economic consequences would be manageable.

  10. I still fail to see how sanity can or will return to this process as the referendum was not aiming to solve a national problem—it was instituted to solve a problem in the Tory party. Nor was it created rationally with a super-majority, if it was then going to be considered politically as binding. The sheer insanity of allowing 38% of the electorate, or 28% of the population to dictate the result is nearly beyond comprehension. The whole process was so flawed in conception and delivery—-the big lies of the campaign, that not much direction can be ascertained from it. The politicians won’t admit their culpability in this and so put the responsibility onto ‘the will of the people’. The predictions of riots in the streets if the referendum result is not honoured begs the question of what people think will happen if we leave the EU with the economy in tatters, institutions beggared, and with social cohesion unraveling. No real leader has emerged, or will emerge until there is someone who is willing to stand up to say this is not what democracy is about. And stand there explaining it, and taking the flak, until people understand what is being lost for what gain, ie, nothing. And also explain how the inequalities which drove some people to vote out will be addressed— but from within the EU, with the stronger economic prospect that will allow. Austerity will seem like a sunlit upland if we cannot ensure economic stability and leaving the EU with the current confused direction of the Government will not deliver that. Defending the referendum result seems, paradoxically, patronizing of those who voted to leave. The truth dare not be told—the lies have to keep being perpetuated. Yet, at some point we will all hit the Brexit brick wall at speed. Any predictions of what happens to democracy then?

  11. People vote at every election for a party that broadly represents their views, based on succinct principles. The details are often sorted out afterwards. The difference here is that the ratio between principle (soundbite) and the details is so great that it pails all other policies into insignificance. The problem is that we have agreed to leave the EU without a plan and a few idiots are trying to implement it.

  12. “To pretend it is without risk to democracy to promise there would be no downside to Brexit…”
    Jolyon – Is your list of downsides to Remaining readily available, as available as the odd collection of Brexit downsides you throw about here?
    Jon, 9.00am – exactly right. There is no reason to separate The European Union Customs Union (to give it its full and proper name) from the referendum decision to leave the EU. How can a non-EU member, one that actively decided not to be a member, agree to having its international trade negotiated for it by the Commission?
    Abid, 11am. If we had Remained, those same idiots would be the ones trying to make the EU work. Only, by sharing sovereignty, we get to be told how to live, work and trade globally by even more idiots all arguing like cats in a bag until Angela tells them what to do !
    By the way, who cares what Owen Jones says? Why do we care what he says any more than we care what any other person with one vote says?

  13. Jon says “I think one has to look at the aspects of EU membership that would be retained by remaining in the SM/CU (EU law taking precedence, freedom of movement, contributions, trade negotiations limited or impossible).”

    I’m not sure that is certain. No country has left the EU before, leaving is subject to negotiation and yet these elements are not being negotiated. They should be, even if the other sides opening stance is that they are not negotiable.

    That aside, there was sufficient obfuscation before the referendum on the issue of the SM/CU, ECJ, FoM and Sovereignty that to draw any conclusions on the “will of the people” on a binary question is bound to be flawed.

  14. William – I think it is clearer and simpler than you suggest. The question put to the people was whether they wished to leave the EU or remain within it. By “the EU”, what do you think was meant? Was there any reason to think that this really meant “the EU but not the European Union Customs Union.”?

    Clearly not. Before the referendum David Cameron established what “remain” would look like and got commitments from the EU that this sort of remain would be respected. That sort of remain included membership of the European Union Customs Union and the European Single Market.

    The referendum was simple – do you want to remain in the manner set out in the Cameron/EU deal, or not? And the answer was, not.

    So now we must leave the EUCU and the ESM. The question is whether it is in our interests to have a trading relationship with those countries who have decided to have their trade negotiated on their behalf by the Commission. Which means the sovereign UK needs to negotiate trade rules with the Commission. Just like any other sovereign country does.

    When we do a deal with the Commission on trade with the EU members, I hope we don’t tie our hands. I hope any deal means we can set our own duties and tariffs with non-EU countries. Because what I voted for was tariff and duty-free trade with the developing world. If we no longer want to impose a 7.5% customs duty on coffee from Kenya, we don’t have to – we can set our own rate, and I hope it is 0%.

    Yes, my vote leave was because I hate the way the EU discriminates. It favours its own at the expense of the well-being of others. Asia, South America, and especially Africa, are all discriminated against. I hate the idea that we have to give conditional aid to these countries in order to try and make good the impoverishment we cause by our current Commission-negotiated restrictive trade rules.

    Let’s start some real fair trading!

  15. William – I agree that these elements must be negotiated.

    Whether we start that negotiation from an ‘outside’ position on the SM/CU and negotiate our way partially back in, or start from an ‘inside’ position and seek further opt-outs, is not necessarily important.

    My point is that a wholesale adoption of the SM (like Norway) and/or the CU (like Turkey) cannot possibly be a political solution to the debate and referendum undertaken last year.

    The obfuscation you refer to is why it is probably best to step back from the specific institutions and legal arrangements and look at the political issues which were under debate.

    Unamended SM/CU membership is probably the one outcome that would unite both Leavers and Remainers as being worse than full EU membership. It would upset Remainers by withdrawing the UK from the institutions and upset Leavers by not obtaining the freedoms of non-membership.

    Deciphering the referendum result is difficult. But it simply cannot have meant discarding the UK’s place on the decision-making institutions whilst retaining all the elements which were repeatedly criticised during the winning Leave campaign. That makes no political sense whatsoever.

    Do you know what I would advise Remainers to do? Build an alliance with other EU politicians and petition the EU from within to have another go at putting together an offer for the UK to remain on new terms. Achieve what Cameron failed to achieve. Then use that material new development to campaign for a new In/Out referendum. Although it will be called ‘undemocratic’ and worse, this is fundamentally a much more honest campaign than the SM/CU one currently underway.

  16. Jon,
    I am not aware of an explicit campaign for SM/CU. It’s not something I’m campaigning for. But if I see an opportunity to point out to Leavers that SM/CU is substantially less damaging than a hard brexit, I will take it, because I feel that hard brexit will do immense damage to the country for generations to come. Likewise, at the end of the day, if I *had* to make the choice between SM/CU and hard brexit, I would choose the former. The Economist poll I mentioned shows 75% of Remainers making this choice, and I am sure that most of them, like me, would make it reluctantly..
    Why 25% of Leavers prefer soft to hard Brexit as an outcome is something I don’t understand, although I think it could be related to that other point I mentioned of many Leavers not wanting to be worse off through Brexit. But any analysis of what people meant by voting Leave needs to explain this. It may not make political sense, but the numbers say what they do.

  17. Jon – “Do you know what I would advise Remainers to do? Build an alliance with other EU politicians and petition the EU from within to have another go at putting together an offer for the UK to remain on new terms.”

    – Isn’t that sedition?

  18. Well l agree with Owen Jones that the referendum result determines what happens next and cannot just be lightly chucked aside. But he is wrong to say that its instruction requires us to comply with a plan that even now has not been written. No-one takes a project from idea to implementation without reviewing the project plan. Only then can a final decision be made.
    I agree with Jolyon who recognises that opinion will change (though we do not know how) once more facts become known. As the Brexit plan is firmed up and we know what its benefits, costs and risks are people will think Yes or No.
    However, l do not think that a Parliamentary vote to Remain can settle the question. 2016 Leave voters will feel cheated by the Westminster elite.
    So, what Labour should provide for is a referendum on the terms of Brexit with the option to Remain. That would be a different question from 2016: not Brexit-the-idea, but Brexit-the-plan. The supporters of Brexit could make their case, so also the opponents. It should meet both Owen’s and Jolyon’s concerns.

  19. I’m reminded of an old joke. A tourist is driving down a country lane in (select country/county to suit your prejudice) and realises that (s)he is lost. A local is leaning against a farm gate so the tourists stops and asks directions to (select town/city). The local replies: ” Oh, you don’t want to start from here.”
    The fact is that that one has to start from where one is. The referendum happened. There’s no point it bleating about how, why or whether it was binding. It happened and just over half of those who
    (a) were entitled to vote (i.e. not including the people who will be most affected – children and Brits living abroad) and
    (b) felt able to see through all the lies well enough to make a decision
    voted to leave.
    It happened and we have to live with the fact. It would be unthinkable for any government or parliament to unilaterally go against that decision. Civil unrest would be a certainty; something more extreme a probability. The people are the only people who can undecided what the people have decided.
    Remainer efforts should be focussed on one thing only; to ensure that the final decision is made at a referendum where the people decide between
    (a) to leave on the basis that has been negotiated, agreed with the EU and ratified by Parliament and
    (b) to scrap the whole idea, withdraw our notification under Article 50 and go back we where we were.
    If the Labour Party wants to be a serious opposition and a potential party of government then that is what it needs to do. I’m saddened that it is unlikely to do so and frightened by the potential consequences of its failure to do so.

  20. Paul. No, of course the alternative to “Leave on the agreed terms” would be “Remain”.
    A decision made without a plan does not oblige us to follow through when we do eventually see the plan or plans.
    A few years ago, l decided to go to Milan for a citybreak. But when l looked at flights and hotels it was far too expensive for my dates. So l did not go.
    You would tell me that l had already made the decision to go and had to follow through with it. My only choices were (1) fly and stay in a reasonable hotel – and bust my budget or (2) go by coach and stay in a dive.
    It is not how decisions are made.
    The 2016 referendum created a mandate to move Brexit forward. The government and Parliament will have done that and created the best Brexit available. That is then put to the electorate saying: now you know what it means, now you know what it does, now you know what it costs, now you know the risks – do you still wish to Brexit or do we chuck the project and Remain?
    If Leave lose, then there is the possibility that the government could have created some other Brexit that would have had majority support. The best time to urge that Brexit is now while the situation is still fluid.

  21. Good news! BMW has said it will build the new electric mini in the U.K. Clearly they think trade will still be possible in a couple of years time. To listen to the doom and gloom merchants here you would think all trade with other European countries was going to stop, or has even stopped already!
    Rejoice! All will be well!

  22. You have to laugh at the Hard Brexiteers who say things like “Everyone knew that a vote to Leave was a Vote to leave the Single Market”. And then you search for their videos and speeches in the years and months before the referendum and as part of their argument to vote their way they slip in the word ‘Switzerland’.
    And they think they are being entirely consistent. I know SWI is not in the EEA, but it does have bilateral agreements that replicate being in.

  23. Paul, not quite.
    You say ” If a member [of the single market], you must be subject to the ECJ and be a Member State.” EEA states like Norway are full members of the single market but not member states of the EU. The package of Swiss bilateral deals almost replicates single market membership. Technically they are not subject to ECJ jurisdiction but the EEA court has to align with the ECJ so in practice they are subject to ECJ
    You go on to say “If you have access to the SM, you are not subject to the ECJ, and you can be a Nation State. Like Switzerland.”. Everyone has access to the single market. The Swiss position is a bit ambiguous. But Single Market members, like the UK, are also nation states. You do not have to leave the Single Market to be a nation state.

  24. Norway is not a full member of the single market. It is a member of the EEA but as a non-EU member the single market is extended to Norway with exceptions. And sorry, I meant sovereign state. UK is not yet a sovereign state, in that it is currently subject to two governments, and it is subject to political, administrative and judicial power from outside its borders. Switzerland is a sovereign state, and the UK is not, but it soon will be – as long as we leave the single market.
    This is what the Commission is telling us continuously – we can’t be in the single market and be a sovereign state; if we want to be in the single market, we have to be subject to an external executive, legislature and judiciary. And the referendum said we would end shared sovereignty on those matters.

  25. Paul
    Well EFTA believe that there is one single market, the EEA, of which all EU and EFTA member states are members.
    Of course the UK is a sovereign state. There is no serious doubt about thst. Try “…Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU…” paragraph 2.1 of the government’s 15 May 2017 white paper.
    If we were not a sovereign state we could not unilaterally decide to leave the EU (compare the positions of Scotland or Catalunya).
    The EU is a treaty organisation of sovereign states, just as NATO or the UN are. They have never said to us something so daft as that we cannot be a sovereign state and in the single market. All other members of the EEA are sovereign states. What the EU have said is that the single market comes as a package and we have to sign up to all of it or none.
    It’s a bit like joining the tennis club. While l am a member l have to accept the jurisdiction of the club authorities. That does not stop me being an autonomous human being. I can always leave the club. But then l don’t get to play on the courts.
    By all means say that you do not think the benefits of membership are worth the costs. But to claim that somehow EU membership has abolished the UK’s sovereignty is misconceived.
    Finally the referendum ballot paper only asked about leaving the EU. It asked about nothing else.

  26. We are only de jure sovereign because we can autonomously trigger article 50 and leave. But until then we have no de facto sovereignty.

  27. Paul

    You do take a rather North Korean view of sovereignty where any involvement with the outside world means the ending of sovereignty.

    The UK has tens of thousands of treaties which oblige us to do something. With your approach we will not be sovereign until we have denounced all of them.

    Think of the mutual aid provision of the NATO treaty. We have promised unequivocably to get mixed up in another member state’s war if they ask us to. Goodbye sovereignty, surely, in your way of thinking.

  28. You can’t see a difference between our government, under the scrutiny of our Parliament, within the jurisdiction of our courts, deciding to enter and uphold a military defence treaty, and having our trade deals signed for us by the Comission, under the scrutiny of the European Parliament, within the jurisdiction of the ECJ. You really think that is the same, with respect to sovereignty?

  29. Your question sets up two different circumstances as though they were the same. As regards the NATO treaty you ask about signing it and leaving it (the only way not to respond to a call for assistance is to leave NATO); as regards the EU treaty you ask about its continued operation. Of course, both signing and leaving treaties are purer exercises in sovereignty than operating within them.

    Whenever we sign a treaty we pool some of our sovereignty. We agree to abide by the UN charter – that constrains us. We agree – not quite, but it will do – to go to war to defend a NATO member state. We agree with fellow member states in the Council of Ministers a negotiating remit for the European Commission to negotiate a trade deal. If it is a mixed deal -as so many of them are nowadays – the deal will require ratification by the European Parliament and each member state.

    Sure, each treaty is different, but l cannot get worked up over the concept of pooling sovereignty.

    On trade deals specifically, what we lose by the European Commission having to have regard to the interests of other member states we more than make up for by negotiating as part of a bigger block.

  30. Ok. You think being subject to a court outside the UK, a Parliament outside the UK, an executive outside the U.K., and a court of auditors outside the U.K., has no effect on our sovereignty.

    What would?

  31. Every treaty we sign has an effect on our sovereignty as well as being an exercise of it.

    Your belief that we are not sovereign while we are in the EU and will be sovereign if we leave makes no sense.

    We will still be part of treaties that have courts and dispute-resolution processes, including the World Trade Organisation – or do you believe that we must leave that too because it has a court?

    I am quite relaxed about EU institutions. They are not some alien force but something that we are a part of.

  32. You would join the monetary union and fiscal union then?

  33. I would not believe that joining the € meant that the UK was no longer a sovereign state. I do not believe that Germany, France and all the other € countries are not sovereign states.

  34. Ok. So the Greek people in their sovereign state can decide in Greek elections to change their interest rates, to devalue their currency, to borrow for infrastructure investment, to do a trade deal with the USA, to end overfishing in their waters, to decide the hours they work, the support the state gives its key industries, and to decide who enters their country?
    Try saying that they can out loud in the middle of Athens and see what reaction you get!

  35. Whilst sovereignty is no longer an easy thing to define in today’s interconnected world, I’m afraid it is a bit facile to compare the EU (with its Parliament, directly binding court, QMV voting system, flag, anthem, foreign policy, etc) as merely just another example of a treaty that the UK has signed up to.
    The better, more honest, Remain argument would be “yes, sovereignty is at least temporarily diminished (although the UK has a reversionary interest in its sovereignty) but we think this loss of sovereignty is worth it”.

  36. Jon, of course. Every treaty reduces sovereignty, just as l reduced my personal autonomy when l took a job and had to do what my employer told me to. I thought that was worth it at the personal level, l think pooling sovereignty is worth it at the EU level.
    My objection to Paul’s thinking is that he deals in absolutes: EU membership ends sovereignty, Brexit restores it entirely (but it seems without having to denounce all the other treaties). That view is untenable.

  37. Paul. Some of the items in your list are within the powers of the Greeks (borrowing, hours), so are aspects of others (trade promotion agreements, though not trade agreements; subsidies within limits); others they have agreed to handle collectively with other countries. And your point is?

    When l was an employee l surrendered a lot of rights, including where l was going to be from 9-5 five days a week. That did not end my autonomy as a person. It diminished it, but l thought the benefits of the contract worth it.

    Evidently the Greeks think the contract is worth it, there is no significant Grexit movement.

    The disagreement between us is not that l do not believe that EU membership reduces our freedom of action. It is (1) that l believe we gain from that, including sovereignty: collective action magnifies what we could do on our own. (2) that l see your absolutist vision [EU membership eliminates UK sovereignty; no other treaty does] as false.

    By all means argue that the benefits of EU membership are not worth the costs. But it is quite misleading to set out a pair of alternatives with the misleading purity that you present.

  38. An argument simplified for a blog is necessarily more black and white than the same argument expressed at length in an article or down the pub !

    When UK enters a non-EU treaty (if it is allowed to of course, a Trade treaty is something that the EU rules do not allow us to sign) the UK Government considers and proposes it, the UK parliament debates it and changes any legislation necessary and holds the UK government to account for its decisions. The UK Courts consider whether UK is acting lawfully according. The NAO audits the UK’s books. Etc.

    When the EU enters UK into a treaty or trade deal, the EU institutions perform all those roles. I can not see how that doesn’t change sovereignty.

    The Federal states of Germany, and the Federal States of the USA, have all got in theory the same “sovereignty” as an EU member state, in that they are in theory deciding to pool some of their sovereignty with a super-state and federal government. You think that Nebraska is a sovereign state? It has the same amount of sovereignty as UK according to the “you can withdraw when you like” theory of sovereignty expressed above.

  39. But the EU treaty is expressly, deliberately, overtly about pooling sovereignty. It is absolutely about replacing sovereign powers in its member states with powers vested in the Union – executive powers in the Commission, legislative powers in the EP and Council, monetary powers in the ECB, judicial powers in the ECJ, etc.

    How can you possibly argue that a Treaty that is absolutely about pooling sovereignty leaves all its members as separately sovereign?

    Be honest about it at least. Say that you think a removal of executive, judicial, monetary, fiscal, and legislative sovereignty to a United States of Europe is a great idea.

    Come on – say it. If the remain side of the debate had been honest about this, it may have won. Your mealy-mouthed ‘ah, nothing has really changed’ arguement lost you enough votes to swing the result the leave way.

  40. Paul, the question of whether one of the United States of America could leave the union was settled decisively in 1865.

    We do have the opportunity to leave. That makes all the difference.

  41. Michael, you’re right to reject dealing in absolutes. There are very few absolutes in the world, and the tendency to deal in absolutes is one of the great problems of Twitter-era debate.

    With respect, though, a similar criticism can be leveled when people seek to “over-categorise” things, and then apply common rules to all members of that category.

    When you talked above about ‘tens of thousands of treaties’, the implication this creates for the reader is that you are saying:

    – The EU is a treaty-based construct.
    – There are lots of treaties to which we are a party.
    – Therefore, unless a person makes the same point about all treaties, they cannot make a point about any.

    This is a bit of an absolutist argument. It ignores all shades of grey. Not all treaties are the same. Some have such a minimal effect on our sovereignty that they can legitimately be ignored in discussion.

    For me, there is a difference between a treaty in which we pledge to observe certain directly-agreed obligations, and a treaty in which we pledge to observe any new obligations which are made from time to a time by institutions in which we do not have a veto.

    I suppose it is arguable that they both reduce sovereignty. (I would probably say that the first is an exercise in sovereignty, because if we say that sovereign entities can never agree anything, then sovereignty can never really exist in the real world.) But, on either view, they certainly do not do so to the same extent or in the same way.

  42. Jon – if I had your eloquence, that’s what I would have said. Thanks!

  43. Very interesting and well-written piece. I agree with some of it but I also have my disagreements. Would be very grateful if you checked out the recent post on my blog in which I also discuss Owen’s article.

  44. Paul, Jon,

    Oh, l absolutely wish for the EU federal superstate with EU army and all the trimmings. But it is not even remotely what we have. And it is not even under serious discussion. You will have noticed that armies are national.

    Yes, the EU treaties pool sovereignty and leave member states as sovereign states. Like every other treaty, although generally more so. Magic, isn’t it.

    As has been pointed out by Twistedbyknaves, the American states gave up on sovereignty, and l do not believe the German constitution provides for secession. The EU of course as a treaty construct with sovereign states as members does.

    I am pefectly happy to agree with you that as you now say the EU treaties “change” sovereignty. It was your black and white view that they ended sovereignty which l thought unhelpful.

    Note however two points in addition to the loss of sovereignty you see.

    First, we are part of the EU institutions: British MEPs, British Ministers in the Council of Ministers. It is not that different to noting that the Westminster government has MPs not only from your county. It is wrong to talk of the EU as a colonial subject might have talked about the British Imperial power.

    Second, remember that EU institutions also enlarge our sovereignty. Through the Council of Ministers and the ECJ we get the chance to tell the French what to do. That of course is why eg Mrs Thatcher was so keen to enhance ECJ role and have more QMV in the Council on the single market.

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