In What Ways Has Membership of the EU Affected the Working of the UK Constitution?

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In What Ways Has Membership of the EU Affected the Working of the UK Constitution?

The UK Constitution is flexible (meaning that it is not entrenched and therefore easy to change), organic (it has developed through time) and uncodified (it is not written and collected together in a single document). It sets out a system of government that is unitary in nature (ruled from the centre) and where parliament holds sovereignty. Membership of the EU has had a big effect on the EU Constitution, particularly in the two areas mentioned above.

Firstly, EU law takes precedence over UK law (where they conflict), thus removing some sovereignty from Parliament. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) can rule against UK legislation which contradicts with EU legislation. For example in the Factortame case where UK legislation had limited foreign fishing in our waters in contrary with EU law. Furthermore, when Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) is used in the Council of Ministers, the UK loses the right of veto and EU legislation can be imposed that the UK didn’t necessarily vote for. Enlargement has made it necessary that the issues over which QMV are used should be increased. Previously, QMV was used for issues such as agriculture and trade, but now it has been expanded to include more sensitive areas such as immigration and asylum policy (although the UK have an opt-out agreement about immigration). If the new EU Constitution is ratified even more areas will be decided using QMV, thus signalling a further loss of Parliamentary Sovereignty for the UK.

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However, Parliamentary Sovereignty is still retained in some ways. Parliament doesn’t lose any sovereignty to intergovernmental institutions within the EU such as the European Council. Also, when unanimity is used within the Council of Ministers (on issues such as defence policy) the UK effectively has a veto and so no sovereignty is lost. Parliament agreed to submit to the precedence of EU law when it joined in 1973 and can also vote to leave the EU as well. In this way Parliament could be said to still retain ultimate sovereignty. Finally, this ‘loss’ of sovereignty could be viewed from ...

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