12 May 2016
Sovereignty – you either have it or you don’t. You can’t divide it. So goes one of the most resonant arguments of those campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union at the referendum on June 23. They contend that the transfer of some powers to the EU has fundamentally undermined the principle of parliamentary democracy within the British tradition.

Alan Philps

Editor, The World Today


But does the argument hold water?  In a new Chatham House paper, Robin Niblett says it is greatly overstated and fundamentally misguided. Successive British governments have chosen to pool some aspects of their sovereignty in order to achieve national goals that they could not achieve on their own. 

In a world where the economy is increasingly globalized, he argues, no country is fully sovereign. And as for the argument that British Treasury has lost control of government spending to Brussels, he points out that the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget was £8.8 billion in 2014/15. This might seem a lot of money but is actually only 1.2 per cent of total public expenditure of £735 billion. 

One country that is often cited as a model for a post-Brexit Britain is Norway. It is not a member of the EU, but enjoys full access to the single market. What could go wrong? Quite a lot. Two experts argue from different positions that Norway is not a role model. 

Kristin Clemet, former minister of education and research in the Norwegian government, argues that standing on the side lines is no solution. Her country has to pay dearly yet has no say in the legislative process. 

Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for South East England and vocal member of the Leave campaign, argues that Britain could get a far better deal than Norway. The Norwegian government, he says, has always been pro-EU despite the strongly expressed preference of the people to stay out.  The result he says, has been a poor deal.