My dissertation aimed to objectively deconstruct the sovereignty debate in relation to the United Kingdom’s proposed withdrawal from the European Union. In order to holistically analyse a concept that is notoriously difficult to define, I utilised Stephen Krasner’s typology as set out in his seminal work ‘Sovereignty: Organised Hypocrisy.’ Within this, the four key forms of sovereignty were; domestic (the authority and exercise of power within the state); interdependence (the ability to control cross-border flow); international legal (recognition as a state by its contemporaries); and Westphalian (non-intervention).
After defining sovereignty for the purpose of the thesis, I drew upon the historical events and figures that were instrumental in causing the rise of Eurosceptic thought in Britain. Though few post-war leaders were explicit in their promotion of anti-European thought, many facilitated the rise of Euroscepticism in a more passive manner through ambivalence and a fear of the consequences of maintaining a strong stance on such a divisive issue. This was particularly the case in the failure of political leaders to unequivocally state that Britain’s world power had declined during the 20th century in order to avoid the inevitable electoral backlash. As a result, the British populace thought it unnecessary to play an instrumental role in the European project due to disparities between their perception of Britain’s world power and the reality of Britain’s decline.
From this, the transition towards becoming part of the European project was met with a variety of criticisms, with the role of sovereignty as a key concern. Within the dissertation, therefore, I explored the oft-cited diminution of sovereignty which has become one of the main arguments justifying why the UK should leave the EU. As such, the focus of this section included the impact of the proliferation of treaties, the criticisms in regards to the four freedoms, in particular the free movement of persons, alongside the EU as a challenge to the traditional notion of a polity, and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice in terms of conferring power to the European Economic Community (Flaminio Costa v Enel) and the primacy of EU law (Thoburn v Sunderland City Council).
Though the above challenges to the sovereignty of the UK are worthy of consideration, the final chapter went on to state that due to the increasingly globalised world, the progress of European integration is not easily reversed. This is despite the reactionary populist thought that state otherwise, and instead underplays the profoundly detrimental impact to Britain if sovereignty is placed above practicality. This is evident by the continuous delays to the withdrawal process and the realisation that Article 50 was in no way designed to be a rewarding or preferential process to the departing member state. Therefore, options that could be described as a compromise were analysed, including the possibility of leaving the Union while remaining part of the European Economic Area.
However, in terms of sovereignty, joining the EEA would do little to restore the UK to the level of sovereignty that it was perceived to have had before joining the European Economic Community. Indeed, as the Brexit debate continues, it is clear that such an act would not be perceived as taking necessary steps towards restoring state sovereignty. This is especially the case when considering David Cameron’s European Reform Deal negotiated prior to the referendum in order to prevent further European integration. This was deemed insufficient by both Eurosceptics and the wider public by virtue of the Brexit referendum. However, to expect that a state can regain full and unrestricted sovereignty is to fundamentally misconstrue the nature of the international system which relies on practical benefits derived from mutual agreements.
Therefore, it can reasonably be inferred that restoring sovereignty on a substantive level is not simply achieved by virtue of revoking membership of one supra-national body. Other derogations to central sovereignty also exist in the form of rising sub-state nationalism amongst other pertinent examples. The cooperative agreements formed are symptomatic of an increasingly globalised and interdependent world. States form such agreements for more substantial mutual benefit than could be achieved by independent, conflicting states. In sum, the debate on sovereignty and its application to the Brexit debate is concluded to be a matter of historical ideology versus modern pragmatism.