When participating in a discussion with just about anyone who is leaning towards the option of a Brexit at the June referendum, it becomes clear that their reasons for doing so tend to be reactionary and nationalistic; riled up by immigration into Britain that has, in their eyes, undermined British values – whatever they may objectively be.
After much prodding and mildly intellectual critiquing, the Brexiter often resorts to the notion that ‘we must reclaim our sovereignty’. Ignoring that this is, in many cases, an attempt to move the goalposts and shroud an intolerant ‘other’-fearing set of prejudices, one feels obliged to unpack the term and consider the argument regardless as it is the last leg that the Brexiter stands on.
Sovereignty is commonly defined as the power of the State to rule itself. This contains within the definition the ability to pass legislation, hold elections, garner allegiances and so on. Implicit in sovereignty is that Governments can rule by the State, through the State, and for the State. This is to say that the nation has the power to autonomously decide where its best interests lie as a totality. This is precisely the political model that Gibraltar has so successfully incorporated, mastered and continues to flourish in.
For Gibraltar, it is understood as self-evident that the Rock is in some ways a pebble among gargantuan boulders. Simply comparing the geographical clout between Gibraltar and Spain is like considering the size of a grain of sand on Catalan Bay to the actual great Rock of Splendour itself. Therefore, it has been paramount for the smaller nation to build relations on the international scene in order to protect her interests, both economically and politically. For the Rock, it is a matter of survival when a belligerent Spain requires Gibraltar to muster her allies so that the bully does not get her way.
The same is true when it comes to the UK and Europe at large. Brexiters point to Greece as an example of how the EU is in contradiction to the sovereignty ideal – although Greece is not rich at the moment, this claim certainly is, as the country its still very keen on remaining in Europe in order to replace its economic authoritarianism. Indeed, it could change if enough member states wanted it to do. Unfortunately it’s abundantly clear that austerity is the only game in town in the eyes of the UK Government as they have accepted the economic model that forced Greece to its knees with cuts galore.
Greece understands the strength of Europe and its ability to do good if it stood together on a progressive platform and is not a credible argument to use in favour of leaving the EU. Furthermore, it is a much recycled lie that is spouted by Farage and Brexiters alike that 75% (the figure varies but the claim is frequently as high as that) of legislation affecting the UK is made in Brussels or Strasbourg instead of the House of Commons. This is empirically wrong and wholly deceitful. Academics suggest that the figure resides somewhere in between the 8 to 14% mark.
Even then, the House of Commons has to stamp it through before it becomes law – not a single jot of legislation is ‘forced upon’ the UK without them having a say. Brexiters often cite the agreement that the Norway or Switzerland have as part of the European Economic Area. However, the irony is that in the Swiss and Norwegian model they are subject to forced regulations and legislation as part of the single market without having faintest opportunity of blocking or approving what is put on the table – entirely the opposite of what Brexiters say they want to achieve by leaving the EU! Indeed, Norwegian MP Nikolai Astrup famously submitted that “If you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway in the European Economic Area.”
A Brexit would give up these rights, thus denying Britain of the sovereignty it currently holds. It would also create grave problems in the sovereignty priorities of Gibraltar and Scotland who both want a European Britain that would allow them to secure their national interest. Exiting the EU will undoubtedly damage the fabric of Britain, with prominent Scottish voices wanting to establish independence while remaining in the EU, and a Gibraltar facing an existential threat from Margallo and the Spanish Establishment next door. The Chief Minister was right to say that a Brexit would be a betrayal to Gibraltar…but it would also be a betrayal to Britain and all that is valuable in honest and factual discussion of a vital international issue.