Having British Citizenship as a mark of identity is not something we often talk about as Brits. We are a stiff upper lip nation who are more likely to nod politely, and grunt nonchalantly when it comes to national pride. We’re also made up of a group of countries that have their own national pride. So when it comes to giving legal advice, British Citizenship Solicitors are usually advising more in terms of securing rights to reside, to work, to live. Above all, they are seeking to help people secure a new home and future.
That individual identity also feeds into the national identity. However, British sovereignty became a major factor in the EU referendum, with many people all vying for Britain to take back its sovereignty from the EU. It was a friend of mine who recently asked me what all the “sovereign stuff” meant – but they also demanded it be explained in “a way a normal person can understand.” (Their stress on “normal”).
So here goes: simply explained
When the EU Referendum campaigns really got going there were calls from Brexiteers to take back sovereignty and control our own laws. (There were other concerns, but let’s not lose focus here!) So what is sovereignty?
What is sovereignty? In short, it is complete and supreme power over the nation, such as to create laws and so on. Of course it could be argued that he EU has some power over the UK, but then so does the UN and NATO. All countries in the world have to follow some basic legal premise. After all, doesn’t the UK frequently involve itself in handing out sanctions and restrictions?
So amongst other things, sovereignty was a Brexit chant for months before the vote. Hold that thought.
In January of this year, a British business woman, Gina Miller, took Theresa May and the government to the Supreme Court to prove that they did not have the power to trigger Article 50 as it is only parliament has that power. Why? Mainly because the only way to do that would be to effectively pass a new UK law (a Bill) allowing Article 50 to be triggered. The only way to achieve this is to have a vote in parliament.
That vote has already taken place and there was an overwhelming “For” result. But that is not the end of the matter. The Bill must then be further scrutinised in the House of Commons before being passed to the house of Lords. It will require the house of Lords to vote in favour in order for it to become Law.
Only THEN can Article 50 be formally triggered.
So, just to clarify: it is only the sovereign powers of the UK parliament that could create the Article 50 Bill in order to trigger the UK leaving the EU.
“…sovereign powers of the UK parliament…”
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that one of the arguments the Brexit voters used to justify leaving the EU was so that we did not have to be ruled by “an unelected” group. Ironically, leaving the EU requires a new law to be passed, and like any new UK law it must go through the “House of Lords” – our very own, home-grown unelected officials.
Of course there are many other more complex areas of EU law that affect how Brexit will happen, but the most important point here is that no country in the EU gave up its sovereignty in order to be a member, so leaving the EU will not “regain” any sovereignty.
What it does change is the relationship with our fellow members and how the country grows. More EU nationals are rushing to find out what their status will be post-brexit. British Citizenship Solicitors are coming under increased call to advise and support people wanting to know how and when they are eligible to apply for British Citizenship.
Starting a New Life
The sense of identity is different for everyone and there are numerous different routes. Some EU nationals choose simply to reside in the UK as a Permanent Resident and retain their national identity with their home country. Some non-EU migrants plan to stay in the UK for a long term but not their entire life, and might choose an Indefinite Leave to Remain or choose a dual nationality.
However, there will always be those who wish to move to the UK and start their new life – just like there are plenty of British Expats doing the same in other EU countries. People choose to become members of nations for different reasons. Sometimes it is to have a greater feeling of belonging, some so that they can fully engage in society – including being able to vote, for example. Sadly, in my view, it is a commonly held opinion by many people in the UK, that migrants only join the UK so that they can take from it – such as through the NHS or welfare or benefits. There is little evidence to support that and finding out the answers is hard work sifting through bias.
The EU was established for a reason. Without getting all romantic and idealistic about it, one of the main principle benefits would surely have always been that if the countries of Europe were brought together in mutual respect and collaboration, the chances that another World Wide War were greatly reduced. Smaller, other conflicts have happened, but nothing on the scale of the two world wars. Surely that is an achievement worth celebrating.
Sovereignty, Citizenship? Does it even matter?
That would be a very personal decision and depends entirely on how an individual feels about their national identity. National pride was a big theme of the Eu Referendum, and we also saw it play a major hand in the US Presidential election, too. But for all that it might bring to the individual, British Citizenship should also carry with it a sense of duty and responsibility. We often hear people talk about democracy as something that is a right, but it is also a matter of responsibility of civic duty to play an active role for the greater good.
It seems that in the more recent decades we have become a society more bent on shouting and fighting for our rights and entitlements. Brexit was no different. Voters wanted sovereignty “back” so that they could have more power, more control, and more rights.
In my personal opinion, citizenship of any country should not about the rights that it affords, but the responsibility which it bestows.
UPDATE – added 5th February 2017
It’s worth watching this video from LBC about how the white paper on Article 50 actually clearly states that the UK never actually lost its sovereignty during its membership of the EU, despite what politicians and the media had previously claimed on many occasions.