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Pooling sovereignty - a century long process

May 19, 2016 8:32 PM

Some would have you believe that at the heart of the UK's upcoming EU referendum is the question of sovereignty. They'll say that EU decision-making has undermined British parliamentary democracy, and that the only way for us to regain control is to leave. Not that they'll ever tell you what they'd do or how they'd do it, and who will pay the price by losing their jobs.

In fact, for a hundred years successive British governments have chosen to pool aspects of the country's sovereign power through the United Nations, NATO, the World Trade Organisation, the World Health Organisation. There's a very long list of organisations and treaties which have pooled the sovereignty of nations for the greater good. Just yesterday, the Queen's speech announced the Cultural Property (Armed Conflict) Bill so we can sign up to international conventions which try to protect things like Palmyra, Syria in war zones.

Life before union was an on-off civil war for hundreds of years in Europe, culminating in tens of millions of soldiers, civilians and children slaughtered on the battlefield, burnt out cities reduced to rubble, and in gas chambers and unmarked graves.

Sharing sovereignty through the EU helps each of us achieve our national objectives which we could not have achieved on our own, such as creating the single market, constraining Iran's nuclear programme, and helping to design an ambitious EU climate change strategy. Our acid rain used to kill Scandanavia's trees.

The British government still determines the vast majority of policy over every issue of greatest concern to British voters - that's health, education, pensions, welfare, monetary policy, defence and border security. There are 20 such Bills in the Queen's Speech, which doesn't sound like us not being in charge of our own destiny. The UK also controls more than 98 per cent of our public expenditure.

The British economy has prospered in the EU. The UK boasts higher economic growth and lower unemployment than most major developed economies. We attract the most foreign direct investment of all EU countries. The UK is ranked among the most open places to do business in the developed world. British economic weaknesses, such as low growth in productivity, are self-inflicted.

A successful economy and free-movement rules have led to immigration from the EU - like the over 50,000 who work in our NHS. And over 70,000 from non EU countries, who we could ban or throw out but never have because it would wreck the NHS - which is already short of 50,000 clinical staff. Overall, people coming from the EU have benefitted the UK economy - mainly they're young, educated, fit and determined to do better for themselves. With our falling birth rate, who's going to look after oldies like me without them ?

The risks of leaving include the UK being excluded from the process of EU rule-writing, making it a less attractive location for foreign investment. Will Nissan make its new model at Sunderland if we're not in the EU and have tariff barriers against us? How far are you prepared to gamble with the 30,000 jobs in their supply chain?

The UK is unlikely to strike better trade deals alone than it currently has through the EU. You may hear about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will create jobs and wealth, but which has taken years to negotiate. Is the USA going to set up such a deal with us unilaterally? President Obama has made it clear "the UK would be at the back of the queue" And in the mean time, who is going to invest to create new jobs in the UK for people like you when there's no certainty about where we'd be going?

Who abolished roaming charges for your mobile when you're on holiday in Europe ? - the EU's open services efforts. Note that UKIP voted against this. Leaving means that we would have no say in more open EU markets for digital, financial and other services.

Leaving would destabilise the rest of the EU, which will remain Britain's largest market. If you look at our top ten trading partners, EU nations occupy nine places. All the talk about emerging markets like Brazil etc ignore the fact that we could already trade more with them if our wages and social benefits were reduced. We do more business with Belgium than with Brazil, Russia, India and China put together.

Pooling its sovereign power selectively in the EU is the key to designing integrated EU responses to challenges we cannot resolve on our own. These include energy efficiency and sustainability; energy security; internet governance; and the fight against terrorism.

The world today is more interdependent today than when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973. The notion of 'absolute' national sovereignty is illusory. It is also worthless if it limits the ability of future British governments to ensure the security and prosperity of their citizens.

The opportunities that come by sticking with the EU - opportunities for economic growth and stability, trade, security, sustainability - far outweigh the risks of a leap in the dark. Leaving puts all those opportunities at risk.

This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Cllr Robin Ashby to a MyReferendum event organised by Youth Focus charity on 18th May 2016