Theresa May to start Brexit by end of March

Time for action: Yesterday May spoke to the Conservative party conference about Brexit. © PA

Britain’s prime minister has finally spoken. The UK Parliament will soon be able to reject EU law for the first time since 1972. A good example for others to follow, or a disastrous precedent?

The UK voted to leave the EU over 100 days ago. As summer turned to autumn, politicians engaged in a ‘phoney war’, delaying the decision to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon treaty and begin leaving the union.

But that is about to change. Yesterday, the prime minister made the most significant announcement on the subject since June’s referendum. ‘We will trigger before the end of March next year,’ Theresa May said. This will begin a two-year process which no nation has ever undertaken before.

The government will then propose a Great Repeal Bill, which would allow Britain’s Parliament to reject any EU law for the first time since 1972. ‘This marks the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again,’ May said yesterday. ‘It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country.’

There will be an unprecedented return of sovereignty – the authority to make laws – to the UK Parliament. This was the key reason why Britain voted to leave the EU: Vote Leave’s main slogan was ‘take back control’, while almost half of Leave voters said it was the primary motivation behind their decision.

A fundamental principle of the EU is that member states must pool their sovereignty and agree to follow treaties, regulations and directives. This is designed to ease trade and movement between states and encourage peaceful co-operation between European peoples. States must pay membership fees to support the institutions which enforce these rules.

But Europeans are increasingly rebelling against this. Yesterday voters in Hungary strongly opposed EU quotas on asylum seekers in a referendum. People in Greece, France, Denmark and the Netherlands have previously rejected EU proposals at the ballot box.

Before the referendum, senior campaigner Michael Gove said a Leave vote could spark ‘the democratic liberation of a whole continent’. Rumours are now gathering that other countries could follow Britain’s example. Would this be welcome?

Decisions, decisions

What an opportunity, say some. People will have more influence over the laws which affect them. Decisions will be made according to their interests and needs at national level. They will not be in thrall to the assumptions of remote bureaucrats. And nations, communities of people with a shared heritage, will prosper on the strength of their own decisions.

A disastrous idea in a shrinking world, others cry. Pooling sovereignty promotes co-operation and understanding across national borders — vital when technology and travel are bringing people closer together. And for influence over global problems, like terrorism and climate change, national governments must give up some power.

You Decide

  1. Which is more important to you: having control over your own destiny, or working with others to solve common problems?
  2. Should nations be prepared to give up sovereignty to bodies like the EU?

Activities

  1. Think of five things you would try to change if you were a politician. Discuss with a partner: would each issue be better dealt with locally, nationally or supranationally (between countries, for example by the EU)?
  2. Conduct some research into the challenges facing Britain and the EU during the negotiations. Write a newspaper article, dated in 2019, showing how you think Brexit will be reported.

Some People Say...

“Politicians’ job is to put people in charge of their own lives.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Sovereignty — that sounds like a dull legal detail. Why do people care about it?
This dry concept is the most fundamental one in any democracy. Simply put: who do you want to make the decisions which affect your life? How important is it for politicians to understand the needs and interests of the people affected by them? On the other hand, should national politicians, to deal with major global challenges, give up their right to make decisions?
I am not European. Does this still affect me?
The question of sovereignty goes beyond Europe. In the USA, for example, there are regular tussles for power between the federal government (which makes laws that affect the whole country) and the 50 states. And other supranational institutions — like Mercosur in Latin America — face similar tensions.

Word Watch

No nation
Greenland left the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1985. This was not the departure of a member state, as Greenland is a Danish territory.
Then
May said the bill will be in the Queen’s speech (expected in April or May).
1972
The year the UK Parliament passed the European Communities Act. It joined the EEC in 1973.
Motivation
According to a poll by Lord Ashcroft, 49% of Leave voters said ‘the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK’ was the main reason for their decision.
Agree
If national law conflicts with EU law, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) can overrule it.
Institutions
These include the ECJ, the European Parliament (which is directly elected), the European Commission (representatives of the governments of the 28 EU members) and the European Council (where government ministers meet).
Opposed
The quotas would require Hungary to accept 1,294 asylum seekers. Last night think tank Nezopont estimated that 3.2 million voters had rejected them; 168,000 had voted for them. The referendum will not be legally binding if the turnout is below 50%.

Subjects

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