Parliamentary sovereignty and the European Union

The following is an official transcript of the speech given by the Rt. Hon. David Jones M.P. during a debate on parliamentary sovereignty in the House of Commons on 4 February 2016.
House of Commons, 4 February, 2016
Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing this very important debate. The principle of parliamentary sovereignty is the central pillar of the British constitution. In modern history, it flows from the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It is the very fountainhead of our freedoms and democracy in this country, and I believe that every Member of this House should seek to defend it.
I have been concerned about parliamentary sovereignty since 1972; I was a very unfortunate, sad youth. I remember the debate about accession to what was then the European Economic Community, and being told by Edward Heath that we would not be losing our sovereignty, merely sharing it. I felt at the time that that was a nonsensical proposition. Sovereignty cannot realistically be shared; it can either be preserved or surrendered. So in 1975, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), I voted against remaining in the European Union. My view has not changed since.
My view is that we have ceded—temporarily, I hope—our sovereignty to the supranational entity now known as the European Union. I believe that that sovereignty can be recovered, and that it is not completely lost. But the concern is that the unremitting accretion of power to the European Union, which the EU is clearly intent on pursuing if the Five Presidents report is anything to go by, carries with it the danger that at some stage our parliamentary sovereignty will indeed be extinguished. No one in the House, from the Prime Minister down, should be prepared to accept that.
The Prime Minister said in his Bloomberg speech:
“There is not, in my view, a single European demos. It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.”
That is certainly the case in the United Kingdom. But we must look at the draft decision that the Prime Minister unveiled to the House yesterday. The question is whether that would, if agreed, be sufficient to restore the sovereignty of the United Kingdom that has been ceded to the EU. I have huge concerns that it would not.
In the first place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) pointed out in his Committee’s report, the legal force of a decision, which is a political agreement of Heads of Government and Heads of State, is open to debate. The draft decision details the various areas of provisional agreement struck between the British Government and the President of the Council. Other hon. Members have referred to freedom of movement and of benefits, and I do not propose to repeat their arguments. However, I would like to refer to what the draft decision says about sovereignty.
The significance of the repeated references in the European treaties to the creation of an “ever closer union” is played down considerably. The decision declares that the words should not be used to support an expansive interpretation of the competences of the EU or of the power of its institutions; instead it suggests that the words are intended simply to signal that the European Union’s aim is to promote trust and understanding among the peoples of Europe.
Sir William Cash: Does my right hon. Friend agree that even if the expression “ever closer union” is taken out in respect of the United Kingdom, that will not change one word of any of the existing treaties or laws? We will continue to remain subject to those laws and treaties.
Mr Jones: My hon. Friend is entirely right. In fact, the decision acknowledges that the competence conferred by member states on the Union can be modified only by a revision of the treaties following the agreement of all member states. Although the commitment to ever closer union is stated to be symbolic, the reality is that competences have been transferred from the sovereign nations of Europe—Britain included—to the EU and its institutions. The extent of that transfer is very great indeed, as other hon. Members have pointed out.
The institutions of the EU have become ever more powerful. So powerful are they that even the proposal to limit benefits to EU migrants and the new rules on child benefit, set out in the draft decision itself, would, it seems, be vulnerable even if agreed by all Heads of Government and Heads of State. Today’s newspapers report that Members of the European Parliament will have the right to veto all the proposed reforms, including the so-called emergency brake.
Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (UKIP): Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that if we are unable to secure substantive reform now, when the Union’s second largest member, and its fifth largest economy, is threatening to walk away, the chances of our ever getting substantive change that we can be comfortable with are nil?
Mr Jones: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. That is the direction of travel that the European Union is hellbent on pursuing.
A document circulated in the European Parliament asserts:
“The European Parliament will defend the fundamental principles and objectives of the EU and will be cautious of setting dangerous precedents which could undermine such principles and objectives.”
The issue of parliamentary sovereignty could not be thrown into any sharper relief.
Nor do the “red card” proposals protect British parliamentary sovereignty. They require reasoned opinions to be submitted within 12 weeks of transmission of a draft EU law, and they require more than 55% of the votes allocated to national Parliaments. That is another attempted exercise in so-called pooled sovereignty.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can help the House. On this business of voting, are we talking about the number of Parliaments or the weighted votes? Germany has about 16% of the weighted votes and France has about 12.5%, so between them they have 30% towards the 45% blocking threshold.
Mr Jones: My understanding is that it is the latter.
The proposals do not amount to a reassertion of the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. Yesterday, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Prime Minister said:
“asserting the sovereignty of this House is something that we did by introducing the European Union Act 2011. I am keen to do even more to put it beyond doubt that this House of Commons is sovereign. We will look to do that at the same time as concluding the negotiations.”
All hon. Members will be looking forward to the announcement on that, and it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could give us an inkling of what is proposed, so that we can achieve at least some comfort.
If what is done is insufficient, the British people will be right to conclude that a vote to withdraw from the European Union is the only way to preserve the valued constitutional integrity of our country.

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