I got in a Twitter fight about the EU. I tweeted that the primacy of European law over British law is an assault on our sovereignty. My opponent wished to know which EU law it was that I didn’t like, exactly?
Which EU law don’t I like?
Actually, there are two. Whenever I go shopping for light bulbs EU Directives No. 244/2009 and No. 245/2009 leap from the shelf of weirdly shaped, overpriced bulbs and slap me in the face. I used to pay a pound for a lovely, warm, 100-watt beauty. Now, four quid later, it’s: enter room, turn on light. Wait. When bulb spills meek glow, proceed about your business. Say what you like about lumens, they are not as bright as a watt.
Bur seriously, there are so many EU laws! Roughly thirteen percent of legislation passed in the UK Parliament implements laws made in Brussels. This percentage rockets to nearer two thirds when we include EU regulations, which pass automatically into UK law (2015 figures). To illustrate this point Peter Hitchens – in the 2005 documentary This Sceptic Isle – visits a law library. European Law begins here,’ he explains, taking down a leather-bound book, ‘with one volume, a special edition for 1972.’ Walking past rows of gilt-lettered spines, we see how year by year, legislation from Brussels increases. One year’s law books now take up a whole shelf, then two shelves. By 2005 there are multiple volumes for a single month. Hitchens indicates the bare shelves on two sides of the room. The books, he prophesies, ‘will eventually stretch around this whole library.’ Thirteen years on, they probably need an annexe, or perhaps an extra building.
I’m a cleaning lady. It’s not my business to keep up with new legislation from Brussels. Indeed, the same documentary describes how even back then Westminster failed to keep track. Frank Field, Labour MP, explains, ‘you could hardly know we’re a member of the European Community… we… hardly discuss anything which actually governs the laws of this country. If we were serious half the week would be spent scrutinising what’s coming out of Europe.’
It’s not surprising that all this EU regulation feels invasive to the British who like doing just as we please as long as it’s legal and letting market forces decide how brightly lit our living rooms are. I read somewhere that the mentality behind European law is prescriptive, telling you what you must do, rather than proscriptive, making certain acts off limits. Perhaps the difference is subtle, but to my bones it feels like a fundamental loss of freedom.
I’d always thought that the EU Parliament operated in roughly the same way as our Parliament, with my MEP acting a similar role to my local MP. This has never been true. For example, your MEP cannot introduce bills, and the EU Parliament as a whole has only an oversight capacity; in fact, its amendments to legislation are often ignored by the European Council. Legislation is drafted behind closed doors by the unelected European Commission. A recent document – clear and worth reading – by the European Foundation explains how the legislative process is becoming even less democratic, less transparent and less accountable. And remember, the laws this process churns out have primacy over UK law.
Which one of them don’t I like? This question from my Twitter antagonist – let’s call him Twit for short – is a dud. A giant, reeking, red herring dragged across the path of national sovereignty to confuse the scent and mislead those following the trail. Let’s just say, light bulbs aside, all EU laws were great. The best in the world. They would still have the flaw of not being British. I’m certain that when Britain signed up for friendly trading with the EC in 1972, the people did not expect to be governed by foreign laws. Why not ask which Chinese laws I don’t like, or which Australian laws I find irritating?
Tony Benn MP recognised early on that if our parliament can be overridden, we lose control of our society. Right back in 1972, he warned, ‘Government, Whitehall and the whole of Fleet Street are still trying to brainwash the British people – of all people – into believing that we are quite unfitted to exercise the … rights of self-determination.’
Sound familiar? The 2016 referendum result gave Britain the chance to take back control, and it has been quite the eye-opener to see the Government, the civil service and the media, like any school’s worst C-team after a throw-in, fumbling the ball and, rather than running with it, falling over themselves to pass it to the other side.
Which EU law don’t I like? Don’t get me started….