Ever since 1964’s infamous Costa V ENEL case, in which the European Court of Justice ruled that European law has precedence over incompatible national laws, the legal door has been open for the ECJ to erode Britain’s common law structures.
When the UK was tricked into joining the EU in 1973, the flood gates opened. Professor Anthony Gordon of Queen’s University, Belfast, has noted that the ECJ has an element of jurisdiction over everything now except foreign and security policy.
European law is based on Napoleonic code, in which centralised lawmakers devise rules that go out to the wider country. Courts should enforce these laws. The UK’s base system does include centralised Statutory Law, but also arises from the bottom-up, with local judges ruling on individual cases and these rulings building over time to form a legal framework: common law. As such, UK law has held legitimacy, as it is a product of specific local debates and situations. At the same time, it is also flexible, adaptable, and responsive.
Hence rulings on straight bananas and the imposition of metric weights and measurements is the unwelcome imposition of far-removed bureaucrats into the real, market-based lives of traders, prompting the resistance we have seen and the delegitimisation of the EU. Other ECJ rulings, such as 1998’s Grant V South West Trains, have served as the basis for Westminster elites pushing through legislation, such as the 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, without wider social debate or studying the long-term consequences and effects on social cohesion.
And, despite the UK’s opt-outs from certain regulations, Lord Blackwell has noted euro-creep. Although not having direct force, EU legislation still ends up often being referenced in domestic UK legal cases by the courts, and the EU institutions have a history of finding ways round Britain’s opt-outs (consider the social chapter and working time directive). Former Labour MP Michael Connarty noted how the EU often tried to make legislation as difficult as possible for Britain should the UK exercise its rights to opt-out.
Given the UK’s ties to the EU, even if the UK has legal protection in a treaty, it can still be dragged in a direction it does not want if the rest of the EU follows a different direction set by the ECJ. The UK can find itself pulling in the opposite direction, much like today, when we are finally trying to deal with the slippery slope of integration the rest of Europe has embraced after far too long. If we value our uniqueness; if we value our heritage; and it we value our democracy, then the only way to protect our naturally-arising rights and freedoms is to leave the present political organisation that is the European Union.
Cameron has done well to seek a new relationship, but economics and demographics show us that the world is waiting, and Europe is in decline. On principle and based in fact, we must vote to leave.