Monarchy and government have historically wielded absolute sovereignty in the UK, with criminal and civil law, trade and industry, and taxation all within their purview. Yet in the last century several factors have eroded UK sovereignty: the emergence of Europe as a community; the growing power of the USA; devolution, and, more generally, the increasing influence of international law, treaties and the UN. So, where is the UK’s sovereignty?
Sovereignty is defined as: “Top authority: supreme authority, especially over a state. Independence: freedom from outside interference and the right to self-government. Independent state: a politically separate state”
The European Union (EU) is the largest threat to the UK’s sovereignty. The UK government is no longer the supreme authority since the European Communities Act (1972), in force from 1973, and the Single European Act (1986), in force from July 1987, when Parliament voluntarily handed over much of its legal powers to the EU. The 1972 Act clearly says: “All such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions created or arising by or under the Treaties as in accordance with the Treaties are without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the U
The Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights has also limited the sovereignty of Parliament. This Act provided the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the power to suspend the 1998 Act at any time. This is particularly evident in Northern Ireland where there are the competing interests of the unionists and the republicans. When in session, the Assembly has the power to pass primary and secondary legislation, with Westminster only able to legislate in "excepted" and "reserved" areas. In the European Community"tms early years, the Commission proposed, Parliament advised, the Council of Ministers decided and the European Court interpreted Community legislation. Since the Scotland Act (1998), the Wales Act (1998), the Northern Ireland Act (1998) and the Greater London Authority Act (1999), the central government in Westminster has voluntarily handed over certain powers to each region, subsequently affecting its sovereignty. This led to Marshall v Southampton HA (1986 1993) which forced the UK to bring its sex discrimination laws into line with Europe. Yet some criminal cases can be appealed to the ECJ. Council Directive 76207EEC provided equal treatment for men and women. It remains to be seen whether this would be the case if there is a drastic change in the political character of the Scottish Parliament after a General Election. It is worth mentioning at this point that Europe can create laws affecting the UK without prior consultation e. Council Directive 89617EEC now means that shops must sell all their products in the metric system of measurement. The UK was in fact one of the earliest signatories of the Convention.