The obsession and trend of human rights in recent decades has created an international discourse which applies far reaching principles with little, if any, input from nation states. This is because multinational political bodies (MPBs), like the European Union, have little democratic engagement with the electorate, causing the need for immediate reform if any resolution between politics and the people is to be obtained.
European ‘social rights’ must not overshadow the UK’s unique economic position in the world. As Margaret Thatcher said, ‘Constitutions have to be written on hearts, not just paper,’ reinforcing the need for public consent for the policy before its implementation so that it has the validation of its people’s ‘hearts’ and therefore a profound impact when introduced.
MPBs face a choice: align themselves to the interest of the nation state, or become a vacuum for unrepresented, idealistic material that is, at best, wasteful.
This is set out in terms of two criteria. Firstly, transparency of MPBs when implementing policies and the public’s choice to consent to and legitimate the procedure is vital. The institution needs to be open and honest with the public on its choice of policies and in doing so become open for scrutiny. If this were not the case, national discourse can easily turn defensive and start to criticise the structural difficulties and complexities of MPBs rather than the more day-to-day problem of substance and choice of policy. Transparency regarding the roles and choices taken in making policy enables communication and reinforces the legitimacy of the organisation.
European cooperation began on principled terms, with the Single European Act of 1987 cementing an advantageous free trade agreement for both parties. However, with the Commission as the executive and the Council of Ministers as the senate, it raises questions over destabilising British sovereignty. For whose benefit? The answer is simple, in the words of Margaret Thatcher, "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”
This dominance is counter-intuitive and the progressive nature of the EU since the Single European Act was signed, evidenced through the contemplation of creating a European defence force, diverts from what the core choice of whether to enter the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was based upon – a free trade arrangement. Post-agreement concessions should stop, and European integration should reach a halt, where British sovereignty isn’t diluted for European satisfaction.
The second criterion for a sound relationship between multinational political bodies and nation states is conversation. Dialogue is key through national discourse as it encourages a soundboard for MPBs to work from. Therefore, one can implement policies that do not threaten democratic values, but instead form the foundations of constitutional reform which rests on consent from those it affects.
The Reagan Doctrine emphasises that ‘freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.’ This doctrine of liberty was enforced and given teeth through political will, also known as democratic consent, and military strength – qualities that MPBs need to mirror to be truly effective in relation to its aims.
National sovereignty is being replaced with international conventions and ‘consensus’ based upon desires, idealism and appearance rather than instructions. This is evident through the vague and ambiguous language of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Human Rights (CFHR) in which Lionel Jospin was dedicated to creating a ‘European Constitution’ where the Charter would be at the core.
The French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) enforced democratic principles determined by a generalised definition of what law constitutes and led to a government of absolute control over the individual. The drive for a new set of rights was not due to the ineffectiveness of the unwritten constitution of the UK which defends individual liberty with confidence, but the written constitutions of liberty that caused Europe severe problems.
Pose in contrast to the British conception of human rights which, according to Winston Churchill, encapsulates ‘institutional context and is the fruit of living tradition’. This pinpoints the unwise choice to incorporate Britain into the ECHR and CFHR. The electorate feel disenfranchised with European regulations and rights because of its inability to imbibe confidence with UK citizens, and this finally found expression through the vote to exit the European Union.
This is not to say that the necessity for an international community relating to human rights between Europe and Britain should be abolished, but that those who agreed on behalf of their states did not recognise the move away from national sovereignty and government responsibility while diminishing the two criteria for a successful MPB. Distancing from artificial rights of the past forced onto a country whose economic and political structure differs significantly to elsewhere in Europe is in the interest of Britain and her people.
Human rights need to be implemented by nation states in alignment with their circumstances, institutions and habits. However, the ECHR and CFHR do not align with a country who is at its best with freer markets, lower government spending and intervention. As a result, the lack of transparency and communication between the British electorate and European Parliament has left a broken bond and lost legitimacy.
International organisations walk a tight line between having an impact with consent from nation states and being criticised for clear divisions between people and international policy. The idealism of the left for ECHR and CFHR leads to the depression of British sovereignty by handing over the onus onto an institution that defends an undemocratic authoritarian cover on social rights. One that at the moment does not require the consent of the British people.
European consensus in this context is one that no one fully agrees to, or believes in, but is still implemented and affecting millions of people. Conviction politics with clear transparency and conversation paints an honest picture of the political and offers a choice in whether to accept the principles an MPB stands for, rather than a body bending its beliefs to fit an ideal. MPBs need to grow a backbone and place responsibility where it sees fit.
NATO is a US-led military cooperation that offers clear cut ownership, this visual responsibility on a country through an international organisation is key as it provides leadership and maturity of a country that can chose to incorporate her allies when effective. It is far too easy to fall into consensus politics where all desires, values and beliefs are lost to a deal in which no one walks away pleased or is accountable for their actions. MPBs need to play a role that must give greater weight to sovereign nations’ priorities.
The erosion and subordination of national law through MPBs, including the ECHR and CFHR, non-governmental organisations and pressure groups jeopardise Britain’s advantages of freer markets, lower government intervention and spending. In Article 38 of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights the text highlights that ‘Union policies shall ensure a high level of consumer protection,’ but how high a level is acceptable and on what grounds?
The European Court have full reign on the desirable level that ensures consumer protection, reign that faces limited scrutiny. Furthermore, in Article 31 the Charter believes ‘every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity,’ but who is to say what classifies as dignified? This full reign over nation states as to what is implemented reduces democratic decision making and hinders liberty.
As Britain’s exit from the European Union offers an opportunity to return to UK law from European ‘rights’, it is paramount it is seized with both hands. However, the Chequers proposal believes one should convert into British law all current EU law on agricultural regulation, state aid and social policy.
MPBs face a choice, face up to the past which holds a lack of transparency and conversation, or find an electorate who rise up to today’s illegitimate and disenfranchised politics.