Real Sovereignty

Suggested clause for

Sovereignty and international relations:

1. This constitution affirms as its founding principle that sovereignty belongs to the people of Britain not to the Monarchy or to Parliament.

2. The people of the United Kingdom recognise that there are many advantages to working together with the peoples of nations across the world. To this end, sovereign powers may be delegated to international organisations for the purposes of trade, mutual defence or other mutual benefit. From the date that this Constitution enters into force, the consent of the people must be given in a referendum before such delegation becomes effective.

3. The sovereign power of the people delegated to international organisations is derived from the birth-right of the people and may at any time be reclaimed by them subject to the reasonable obligations forming part of the treaties by which this power was originally delegated.

4. In respect of the European Union, the national government is required to do everything within its power to enable members of the European parliament directly elected by UK voters effectively to hold to account the European Council, the European Commission and the UK Permanent Representative.

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These clauses to be written into the constitution are derived from the original idea and the comments made since the second phase began. Clause 2 was suggested by robg8 (see below).

Sovereignty is a word that gets a lot of use and abuse – just look at the number of posts on this site with ‘sovereignty’ in their title. But clearly, it’s vitally important, so I’d like to suggest two ways in which it should be safeguarded by the constitution.

But first we have to be clear about what sovereignty is and about who has it.

The dictionary definition of sovereignty is: ‘supreme authority’.  As for who has it, in a democracy, there can only be one answer: the people have it – see my post ‘Power to the People’ on the Values topic. Sovereignty in a democracy, by definitition, is held jointly by all those eligible to vote -- except that is, in Britain.

We may be a democracy, but thanks to the quirks of history and the fact that our constitution has never been written down, it's not the British people but Parliament which our unwritten constitution holds to be sovereign.

That's one of the things that we're trying to change. As I've argued in my post Power to the People, the written constitution must recognise that it's the people - not Parliament - who are sovereign.

Acceptance of this principle has radical implications both domestically and internationally.

If voters are the ones to whom power ultimately belongs, it follows that the constitution should give them the right to decide who – or more precisely, which level of government – exercises their ‘sovereignty’ or authority in respect of any particular issue (healthcare, taxation, fisheries, trade negotiations, defence etc).

But that’s not all.

Sometimes, it makes sense for voters to exercise their power through supra-national bodies such as the EU (or the WTO, NATO the UN and so on). In such cases, the constitution should require that the national government’s decision to transfer power to such an organisation be ratified by a referendum (as it was for the EU in 1975 but not subsequently).

With regard to the EU, voters’ sovereignty is only diminished when power is transferred to Brussels to the extent that it’s placed out of their reach - ie when voters are denied the chance to elect directly the people who exercise that power on their behalf.

Clearly, this is what’s been happening on a massive scale. Westminster politicians, like the national leaders of most EU member states, have done their very best to minimise voters’ interference in an arrangement that suits them very well. Shoving themselves between voters and the EU, they’ve shamelessly abused their privileged position to pretend that unpopular legislation is all the work of foreigners and that any good that has come of the EU is entirely of their own making.

The result in Britain is the state of national resentment and confusion now being irresponsibly exploited by the Conservatives for party advantage which may yet blast us out of the EU altogether.

So let’s have a constitution that:

- safeguards Real Subsidiarity; and,

- provides for a referendum to be held whenever the government proposes to transfer power to a supra-national body.

To effectively refine the content of the ideas, please find the two other ideas with which the original idea will be combined: 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------This idea was combined with the following ideas

IanSmith1 idea on sovereignty:

RECALLING SOVEREIGNTY: There is no problem withe allowing international bodies or courts to make decisions which are then implemented in the UK as long as our constitution permits the curtailment of that -the ultimate right to recall sovereignty

JamesDoran:

POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY AND INTERNTIONAL CO-OPERATION:The arrangements with other states should be governed by rules set out in the constitution. If parliament agrees a treaty with another state which involves the pooling of sovereignty for the purposes of trade (such as the European Union) or affects the independence of the state (such as membership of military alliances like NATO), this must be put to the people in a referendum.

Associated blog posts Europe and the UK. Have we lost our sovereignty to Brussels?  

 

edited on Apr 18, 2015 by laure roux

laure roux Apr 5, 2015

please find links to ideas similar to yours. use them to redefine your ideas, modify them...

https://constitutionuk.com/category/2849#/post/79857

https://constitutionuk.com/category/2849#/post/84291

laure roux Apr 8, 2015

should this idea be part of the debate or be left as a stand alone idea? https://constitutionuk.com/category/2849#/post/91279

Also this idea https://constitutionuk.com/category/2849#/post/84632 which is more a statement, I think it fits in the debate, and aliceshaw could join the debate. As her point is despite the pressing concerns regarding sovereignty, the UK has to make it work for now and that the Constitution should echo this current situation the UK is a member of the EU. This may go against the idea of real sovereignty but maybe the constitution should reflect the current state of affaires regarding the UK's membership in the EU... But I know it is a really controversial debate so her idea should stay as a stand alone one but it simply recall the sovereignty topic.

Alastair Bruton Apr 8, 2015

To get things started, I've drafted some clauses (which I hope that you'll comment on) to deal with the points about sovereignty and international relations raised by my original idea and by the other ones referenced by laureroux above - the principle exception is subsidiarity which is currently running as a separate thread at: https://constitutionuk.com/post/84310.

Sovereignty and international relations:

This constitution affirms as its founding principle that sovereignty belongs to the people of Britain not to the Monarchy or to Parliament.

 

The delegation or surrender of any part of this sovereign power by the national government to any international organisation whether for trade, defence or any other reason will not be considered binding until ratified by the people in a referendum.

 

The sovereign power of the people delegated to international organisations is derived from the birth-right of the people and may at any time be reclaimed by them subject to the reasonable obligations forming part of the treaties by which this power was originally delegated.

 

If prior to the time that this constitution comes into effect power has been already ceded by the national government to an international organisation, the national government is required to establish means whereby voters may directly elect representatives independent of the national government to hold to account those international bodies and to have these new arrangements ratified by referendum within five years.

 

Whenever the national government proposes to make such transfers of power to international bodies in the future, it is required to establish how representatives directly elected by voters may hold to account  those to whom power is to be ceded and to publicise these arrangements in advance of the referendum to ratify this transfer.

 

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 8, 2015

"This constitution affirms as its founding principle that sovereignty belongs to the people of Britain not to the Monarchy or to Parliament"

Why is it necessary to say 'not to the Monarchy or to Parliament'? Isn't it enough just to say it belongs to the people?

But, if it is to be included, surely it will have to be 'not to the Presidency or to Parliament'! Or is that battle still being fought?

 

Alastair Bruton Apr 8, 2015

I think that it's useful to state that sovereignty does not belong to Parliament because the belief that it does is so firmly embedded in our current largely unwritten constitution.

I would love to keep the argument about monarchy vs republic out of the constitution because I worry that it would quickly alienate people who would otherwise back a written constitution. But that debate is being held elsewhere and ultimately the wording here will have to reflect whatever is decided.

Tom Austin Apr 8, 2015

1- Sovereignty belongs to the Citizen(ry). [Full stop]

2- Yes!

3- "...reclaimed by them." Why the provisos?

4- Oh lordy, lordy, here we go again, the In/Out referendum (sigh). My 'willingness' to have such a referendum rests upon my hope to be one day passed this nonsense. However, the establishment of an 'independent' committee is a fair proposal.

5- Yes, an ad-hoc version of the committee mentioned above (4)?

Alastair Bruton Apr 9, 2015

4 - this clause is nothing to do with a in-out EU referendum (which in any case I oppose). It simply obliges the national government to make sure that voters exercise directly as much control as possible over each of the international bodies to which part of their power has been delegated. With regard to the EU, the effect of this clause would be to force the government to negotiate to strengthen the power of the EU parliament.

Tom Austin Apr 9, 2015

I am all for, as I did indicate, some strengthening of the ties between Citizens and all forms of 'governance'.

View all replies (5)

Rob G Apr 8, 2015

Taking the five draft clauses (or "clause inspirations")

1) Yes.


2) I worry that this could require referendums to approve the slightest changes. I'm also not sure what is envisaged by "delegation or surrender of any part of this sovereign power" - does our commitment to abide by resolutions of the Security Council count? Would the ICAO agreeing new standards for passports where all passports have to include fingerpints as part of the biometric data?

Could we go for a more positive tone?
The people of the United Kingdom recognise that there are many advantages to working together with the peoples of nations across the world. To this end, sovereign powers may be delegated to international organisations for the purposes of trade, mutual defence or other mutual benefit. From the date this Constitution enters into force, the consent of the people must be given in a referendum before such delegation becomes effective.

3) Yes.

4) No. I don't believe the approval of a constitution should be taken as a step on the road to walking away from any commitments the UK has already entered - if nothing else, there are so many of them, it would become very complicated.
I don't believe that threatening that is part of our mandate.

5) I don't know what "hold to account" means in this context. If it refers to a representative assembly being able to force international bodies to change their minds, there's no point even considering it, other nations in, say, the UN or WTO, won't accept it. If it means having British ministers who've signed up to treaties (and their successors) appear before an assembly of British representatives, fine - but why would we need to reinvent the wheel, isn't that precisely what Parliament is intended to do when it scrutinises the activities of government?

As ever, questions are asked in a desire to elicit a more effective solution.

laure roux Apr 8, 2015

1) yes But sovereignty belongs to the belong is indeed clearer and always on a positive tone!

2) regarding referendum I am a bit doubtful, is it administratively feasible? rather than saying referendum maybe it would be wiser to writ'e 'according to a special procedure adequate to uphold people's sovereignty' it can be respected by other means. I think that writing referendum in a constitution is too narrow. And I agree with the positive tone suggested by robg8 but I have doubts about saying referendum explicitly.

3) fine with me

as the two others I don't have further comment.

Paul Healey Apr 9, 2015

Ideally sovereignty should not belong to political parties who advocate policies that give some citizens freedoms at the cost of others. Rather in a transparent system of voting; not based on hidden agendas that relying on fear, shouldn't sovereignty belong to congresses of direct interests and those delegates that act for them? Just being a real system, doesn't make our one morally or ethically justified as an absolute! For the later reason along I have decided it is still worth participating even if there is only a negligible change for the better, so if not better than it has no future?

laure roux Apr 12, 2015

Great debates going around here, Alastair burton do you think you could try and draft a clause taking into account those comments and post it on the main idea section instead of the long idea we have at the moment ( you can now delete the ideas I added to your idea, iansmith's and jamesdoran's one).

It would be great I you could do this by thursday as the refining phase will end in about a week.

Thank you very much again for your contributions,

Laure.

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Titus Alexander Apr 17, 2015

 

While I agree that sovereignty belongs to 'the people' there are real problems about saying which people for what purpose? Sovereignty is linked to subsidiarity and for some maters supra-national sovereignty is necessary, on issues such as climate change, tax havens and regulation of corporations. On other issues it may be better to protect the powers at a more local level than the national.  

Maintaining international law is hard enough as it is, and when countries can opt in and out of it as they choose could actually make things worse in many countries. OK the UK decides to opt out of the European Court of Human Rights because the electorate wants to deprive prisoners of the vote, then Russia does the same for other reasons.

We need much more transparency, accountability and scrutiny of international treaty processes, but subjecting them to referenda would make international law impossible. Should there be a referendum on the Council of Europe treaty to combat match fixing in sports, for example? Or international treaties on human trafficking?

 

Tom Austin Apr 18, 2015

Yes Titus, even I must grudgingly admit that there is 'something' attractive about leaving much for others to get on with.

However, as with the current promise/threat to offer-up future constitutional 'amendments' for public ratification - no matter how insincere, some form of public ownership needs to be established.

Rob G Apr 18, 2015

Titus, I think we need to recognise the limits of our power - there's quite a lot of hostility to the whole idea of having a constitution for the UK; to seek to change the whole international structure that followed the Treaty of Westphalia in one British document is unfortunately unrealistic.

Yes, we should be active members of the international community; yes, we should lead by our example. But a single country's constitution isn't really the place to make such wide-ranging changes...

Titus Alexander Apr 18, 2015

Hi Rob, All I'm saying is that it is neither practical nor desirable to have a referendum whenever the government proposes to transfer power to a supra-national body. The reality is that huge amounts of actual power are already embedded in international treat obligations and the Treaty of Westphalia has long since been superseded. China, Russia, the USA and some others may subscribe to they myth of national sovereignty but the reality is global interdependence. With world population predicted to grow by two billion over 35 years or so, the need for international cooperation and law will be even more important. Enshrining the principle of a blocking veto, which is the effect of this proposal, could be counter-productive, as in the League of Nations or UN Security Council. Real sovereignty comes from transparency, accountability of the legislative process and effective, impartial enforcement, as well as political education and information so that people know what's happening and how to influence it.    

View all replies (3)

laure roux Apr 18, 2015

Dear all could would vote for or against this idea! the phase closes in 14 hours and this idea needs to go through.

Gavin Russ Apr 18, 2015

Trigger mechanisms for constitutional referendum need to be more nearly defined. Certainly with reference to consitutional amendments that will essential rights and dignities the all citizens, referenda are certainly appropriate. With regard to treaty changes e.g. EU legislation/NATO  etc. we elect representatives to Parliament to undertake these decisions on our behalf? 

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