Sunday, 22 May 2016

Brexit #1: sovereignty

In my flat we have a cleaning rota. There are five of us, and every ten days one of us has to clean all of the communal areas. The others don't have to do anything. And then we rotate.

In flats I've lived in previously we've done it differently. In my last place there were three of us and every two weeks we each did one of the three communal areas. When I lived with an ex we did everything between us once a week. In another place we had a cleaner.

My point is that nobody tells us how to clean up after ourselves: we get to decide for ourselves. The Mayor of London's office hasn't decreed that crumbs must be swept on Thursdays and hobs de-greased on Sundays. Boris didn't care, and neither does Sadiq.

But Islington North, the constituency I live in, can issue fixed penalty notices for littering. Islington North Council has decreed it doesn't want some streets deciding that the gutters are a good place to dispose of rubbish while other streets opt for the bushes. Everyone has to use the bins provided.

What you have there is an example of subsidiarity, a principle the EU runs on. It basically says that rules should get made at the lowest level that makes sense. At some point in time every nation on Earth decided that murder shouldn't be allowed, so they all made that illegal at the national level. In London, for example, I can't just wait for you to cross over to Islington South and Finsbury and then crossbow you with impunity. And not even Zac Goldsmith was campaigning to change that, even if only because he wouldn't have had the power to follow through.

We've been hearing a lot about sovereignty in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. "Vote leave to reclaim Britain's sovereignty", outers say. And yes, EU law does override British law, and yes, according to Full Fact, somewhere between 15 and 50% of new British laws are made in Brussels.

But are we all running around trying to remember whether murder and sweeping up crumbs on Tuesdays are illegal? No, we're not, because EU laws mostly involve trade - the EU's main reason for existing is the single European market - and the environment. Enough people have agreed that starving due to climate change is a bad idea for the EU to decide that Europe-wide laws are necessary to stop a few bad apples smothering the rest of the barrel in fumes.

Did you get a say in that? Well, you had a say in it in the same way you had a say in your local council's littering policies, or the nation's stance on murder. You got to vote for an MEP candidate for the European Parliament, and you got to vote for your national government, which is represented on the European Council, and together these are the two bodies that decide on EU laws. And the group of MEPs that got the most votes picked the head of the European Commission, which is the body that drafts the laws for the Parliament and Council to shape. And if you don't like what any of the candidates are saying, well, don't worry, because you get to run as one yourself if you want to.

Does Britain have more of a say over EU law than Germany? No. Can Britain be outvoted by the other EU nationals collectively? Yes.  Do I have more of a say over my flat's cleaning rota than any of my housemates? No. Can they collectively outvote me? Yes. That's democracy and that's subsidiarity and that's sovereignty in a globalised world where the challenges we face are no longer confined to 50-odd other tribe members. And if you ask me, that's a good way of doing things.

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