Sovereignty or Independence? (2175 Words)

This post authored by Alan King, the blog founder and curator.  Contact Alan via the comments or on twitter (Previously a twitter persona Prez Shulz, now by name) @akabilky

Sovereignty or Independence?

Thank you for visiting the EUandEurope blog.

In this blog post, I will be exploring the practical difference between the much misunderstood word Sovereignty and the much better but still misused term Independence and why both are important but one has much greater importance on a day by day basis.

Some of my thoughts were initially prompted when I read a blog post by Roland Smith on his blog, giving an Analogy of the EU referendum, prompting thoughts on what specifically the relationship between UK and Europe is analogous to.

There have been many analogies about the EU and the UK relationship to it.  At the time of joining, it was seen that the European (EEC) train was leaving the station and the UK had to get on board or miss out. This one never seems to lose currency, e.g.:

  • The Common Market (European Economic Community) train is leaving..
  • The ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism) train is leaving
  • The Euro Train is leaving

Depending on your level of knowledge about the above events, you may possibly be thinking ‘better we had missed the train!

Of course we have the benefit of hindsight now and a different analogy may be appropriate for the position we find ourselves in.

Daniel Hannan writing in the Telegraph used a bus analogy in a different way to the above train ones.

When you’re on a bus, heading somewhere you don’t want to go, the status quo doesn’t mean remaining in your seat. It means stepping off. You won’t get another chance.

So train or possibly a bus, maybe a tram:

A Tram Station in The Hague Holland. Photo taken by the Author whilst working in Holland.

Both good maybe but both wrong in my opinion.

The Good Ship Britannia

Politically speaking UK would be a seaworthy ship, large and very capable but, unfortunately being towed by a supertanker.

No ordinary Supertanker, this one has 27 ‘Captains’ (actually more when the Commission, Parliament and Council are accounted for) each of which doesn’t control the direction of the EU Supertanker.

Let’s analyse why the Ship tethered to a tanker is a good analogy for a number of reasons.

Although, left to her own devices, the UK can quite successfully navigate the high seas and endure the roughest storms; whilst tethered to the EU her ability to navigate is severely restricted by the pull of the EU tow line.

Tethered to the EU supertanker, we have little control over destination, though we can use our engines to alter course a little, we burn a lot of fuel (political capital) doing so and after a while the tanker returns to its original course, the one it has always been on.

We saw this most recently when David Cameron ‘annoyed’ other member states with his ‘Renegotiation’. some of that down to Cameron’s tactics of course.

If you believe that David Cameron delivered a ‘Reformed’ EU then you need to appraise yourself of some basic facts about who made the agreement and what force it has in law. I penned an article on this recently that drew on‘s ‘Dave’s Dodgy Deal‘ articles.

Continuing with the analogy:

If we throw over an anchor in desperation at the course being set, we could temporarily slow the larger craft but then we don’t move anywhere meaningful and neither do they. An unsatisfactory situation.

So, while there’s a tow rope to the larger craft and without wishing to use either of the above options, what can we do?


If we want to influence events, we need to talk to the crew of the larger vessel.
We have a radio but communications rely on the other end responding. They will do that of course in calm waters with no other preoccupations.  We have some of our own crew seconded to the main vessel, although in any ‘community’ roles they are sworn not to represent us directly.
In stormy seas though the crew of the tanker are too busy keeping the ship on an even keel to be able to listen to us. There is always a ready solution offered for us to have more say/influence in events on the larger vessel and that is to be pulled in and boarded to the larger vessel, the more tightly integrated core EU.

You know what the analogy for Brexit is by now of course.

We need to cut the tow lines and set our own course.

There’s a reason we need to do this sooner rather than later.

The longer we stay tethered and find it ineffective to try to control our course, the less we (our politicians) will try. Why expend effort to no good effect? The ‘renegotiation’ showed that we have to reserve our limited political capital for only those things we find most important (to have a small chance of influencing).

Whilst being towed, our political captains (houses of Parliament) lie idle, the crew (civil service) fall out of practice, or busy themselves with more minor tasks. The great machinery of state is effectively running on idle.


Here we come to the crucial difference between sovereignty and independence. In the above analogy, we had sovereignty all along.  By the powers vested in the crown in Parliament (arcane wording I know and for someone with a deal of antipathy toward royalty they don’t fall easy for me to write), we always retain the sovereign ability to cut the ropes. Always.

However, it is easy to see from the chosen analogy that we cannot act independently whilst tethered.

So, we do retain sovereignty, at all times in our free will to take actions. We do need to cut the rope however for it to be meaningful. Whilst still in the EU we are subject to the treaties and would be taken to the ECJ (European Court of Justice*) if we cut the ropes without first going through the correct procedure.

*the ECJ by the way should more correctly be called the EU Court of Justice but the EU has appropriated the term Europe.

On cutting the ropes/leaving the EU, we regain the full utility of engines, navigation equipment and communication equipment that a state of our size naturally has in the world.

A twitter contact made the analogy that President Obama wants us to stay ‘in formation’ (remain a member of) the EU and that we are betraying our allies if we leave.

We can of course mostly stay in formation.. leaving the formality of the EU does not mean we drift away permanently. We can divert to go around obstacles, some of which affect the crew of ourselves and the tanker, some are uniquely our own problems to solve.

..and Independence.

In the analogy above, sovereignty is clearly the ability at any time of our choosing to notify the tanker that we will be cutting the rope and then to do so.

Independence is the ability to set our own course. Not inevitable that we move far away from the EU ‘fleet’ but we have the ability to head in a different direction to deal with issues, or take advantage of opportunities.

But to regain our independence we must assert our sovereign right to exercise independence.

A problem we face is that the longer the Captain and crew spend without having to control the direction of the ship, the more difficult it is for them to do so if and when they are handed back full control.

So What?

There will be those who read the above and, not being convinced will inevitably think, so what? We give away/share our sovereignty as part of NATO, UN, other global bodies, why does it matter that we do with the EU?

The issue with loss of sovereignty in the EU is that it is so encompassing. NATO is specifically for defence for example and doesn’t come into play unless by agreement or in extremis if one of the members is attacked.

The very fact that there is an EU home affairs committee says it all. Who’s home? Purely domestic issues have no right to be decided from Finland to France to Portugal to Bulgaria. People, quite rightly live different lives in each of the countries. Maybe it’s the libertarian streak in the author that believes I actually don’t have a right to tell others how to live their lives and I actually see it as authoritarian to do so on the scale of the EU28.

Actually, if you look at the Home Affairs web page you’ll see some rather grand things that they claim to do.  I leave it to you to decide if they do but some certainly believe they dont:

Mathew Elliot tweet EU Security

But let us look at some simple examples where the UK has taken a different course to the majority of EU members. The first example if a sensitive subject but please see it simply as a case where the UK had a different approach.

A Different Course

On security particularly, if we don’t cut the rope, what happens if the tanker is holed irreparably (internal strife). There is a current example of this in action.  The UK is one of the highest foreign aid spenders in the EU:

The UK spent $19bn on foreign aid last year, compared to $16bn from Germany and $10bn from France

However, we had a different approach to helping Syrian refugees.  Those given asylum in Britain were to come directly from the refugee camps and be based on need.  This was not an approach that other EU countries seemed to support.  Comments about the number of Iphones taking selfies on the shoreline of Greece are valid because those arriving in boats are the ones who can afford to.  You are not seeing the poor and destitute of Syria arriving because they simply can’t afford it.  Those most desperate are very likely to be stuck in Syria or a neighbouring country, with little or no means to move far from the conflict zone.  Those most in need of assistance yet now Mainland Europe will struggle to help them.

Did you see ‘British Influence’ in action? I didn’t. I saw the UK castigated for lack of action.  We can argue about numbers of refugees taken but this isn’t the point of this post.  UK had/has a fundamentally different approach. There is not (yet) a full common asylum policy though Lisbon made Asylum and Immigration a shared competence, see the following:

..the Court of Justice now has full competence in the field of immigration and asylum.

It is likely that the UK might still want a different policy to the other EU member states when it comes time to change this to a Full Competence.

The U.K., superb ocean-going vessel that she is, cannot support all the people on the tanker with the best will in the world.  Ultimately, we may have to cut the rope to prevent the tanker taking us down with it. UK has already distanced itself from the Euro and its bailout mechanism. If you know the mechanics of that bailout mechanism, you’ll know that it has the potential to sink the Eurozone, as bailed out countries have responsibilities to contribute to the bailout itself:

do we really believe that Italy – a country with public sector debts of 120 per cent of gross domestic product – is in a position to find tens of billions for the bail-out of another member state?

Indeed, I had forgotten that Spain itself received money from the ESM fund (though I thought from its predecessor the EFSF, it appears not):

Spanish Bailout Funding

As an aside, the disaster in the Eurozone might have roots outside the poorer southern nations:

France and Germany who set the worst example, when they broke the euro-zone rules they had forced on others

Also note the ‘broke the rules’ reference.  This refers to the famous ‘no bailout clause‘ originally in the Maastricht Treaty. The EU is a rules based organisation of course, until it’s not convenient for *certain members* to obey them? (UK is not in that particularly cozy club btw).

In Conclusion

Once the UK became separate from the Eurozone, We moved away from the course being set by what should be seen as the ‘core’ EU.  The ropes are strained and for valid reasons, the crew of the Eurozone cannot spend too much time listening to the UK.

The key point to remember is that the UK, in or out of the EU will bring what influence it can to bear but ultimately the direction of the EU is not our choice anymore. Indeed, history has proved that it never was and it is arrogance to think it ever will be.

As leaving the EU is not ‘throwing everything up in the air’ as Stephanie Flaunders stated on the Andrew Marr show this morning, if you have a plan, in my opinion it is the right thing to do for very valid and practical reasons.