On television on Sunday 20 February, Cameron argued, “If Britain were to leave the EU, that might give you a feeling of sovereignty, but you’ve got to ask yourself is it real?…you have an illusion of sovereignty, but you don’t have power.” That sounded familiar.
Forty-five years ago, in a notorious briefing paper entitled Sovereignty and the European Communities, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) tried to rationalize the surrender of British sovereignty contemplated by Edward Heath as he sought to take the UK into the European Economic Community — in defiance of his own election manifesto. The FCO paper, which was kept secret for 30 years, argued that:
“The technical legal aspects of sovereignty… must not be confused with the realities of power. Ultimately it is the latter which count… Sovereignty is a technical concept with in many ways only limited bearing on the questions of power and influence… The British have long been accustomed to the belief that we play a major part in ordering the affairs of the world and that in ordering our own affairs we are beholden to none. Much of this is mere illusion.”
This demonstrates two things: first, Cameron is adept at mastering a brief. Second, the FCO line-to-take has hardly changed in 45 years.
The FCO paper went on:
“Membership of the Communities will involve us in extensive limitations upon our freedom of action. The loss of external sovereignty will… increase as the Community develops… By the end of the century… the erosion of the international role of the member states could be almost complete… [I]n the longest term the progressive development of the Community could indeed mean the weakening of the member states’ independence of action and in the last resort of their national institutions and their sovereignty.”
And this is indeed what we have come to.