Sir Iain highlight impact on British sovereignty and democracy of ECJ decisions

8th January 2020

Speaking in the debate on the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Sir Iain Duncan Smith highlights the impact on British sovereignty and democracy of judicial decisions taken by the ECJ that override the supremacy of the UK Parliament and looks forward to the UK returning to be a voting member of the WTO in its own right.

The hon. Lady has made two points that I think are incorrect. First, the British people voted to join something where we had a full veto over anything that we did not agree could be imposed on the UK. Secondly, on judicial activism and the mission creep of the European Court of Justice, perhaps the hon. Lady would like to comment on the way in which power was grabbed through two court cases—namely, those of Van Gend en Loos and of Costa v. ENEL.
One of the things that interests me about the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is what we will do when we are trying to resolve a dispute over a trade agreement at a supranational court—[Interruption.] They will not be elected representatives. The World Trade Organisation court of dispute does not consist of elected representatives. Government Members seem quite happy to hand over control to the WTO court of dispute resolution and pretend that that is somehow more democratic. [Interruption.] Calling me silly is not worthy of the right hon. Gentleman.


My hon. Friend is making absolutely the right case about sovereignty. I mentioned Van Gend en Loos and Costa v. ENEL. The point about those two cases is that they were judicial statements. One was about direct effect and the other was about the whole idea that European law had supremacy. They were never voted on in this House. Nobody agreed to them. Nobody said, “This is what we wanted.” That led to something quite interesting—the imposition of the extension of welfare payments to EU migrants who came here was the result of a judicial review of something that we had never voted for, and it cost us a lot of money.

That is a very good point. Those cases happened before we came into the European Union, and they invade the very concept of the constitutionality of this country and of other countries too, because they say that we are obliged to obey not just any law, not just all laws, but even constitutional laws. That is the point. It is an utter invasion. It is a complete and total destruction of the decision of people through the ballot box in general elections. That is the problem. Sovereignty and democracy are intertwined at the heart of our constitutional system. The hon. Member for Bristol West ought to reflect on the rather absurd propositions in her speech, because she cannot prove a single point that she made.


May I just pick up on one point? My right hon. Friend talks about, “should we wish to give them benefits”. The reality now is that the British Government have to pay benefits even to families of people working over here when their families are not with them. That is roundly disliked across Europe, but those countries all accept there is nothing they can do about it because the European Court of Justice imposed that as part of freedom of movement. It was never debated as part of freedom of movement and it was never supposed that it would happen. It is an end to sovereignty when one can no longer make a decision to change something like that.

My right hon. Friend puts it brilliantly; that is exactly the kind of limitation of our sovereign power, and of our freedom to make decisions that please our electors, that I have been talking about. It is quite important, given the history of this debate.


I really do not understand what the hon. Gentleman and his Front Bench are up to. It is as if they are trying to rewrite the whole concept of the world order in trade. The EU has to abide by WTO rules just as we will when we leave—and we already do. There is no issue here that is going to change. WTO rules apply to the EU as stringently as they apply to us, and when we leave and become a voting member, they will still apply to us. The difference is that if there is a debate for change, we will have a vote which we do not have now because we are subsidiary, underneath the EU. The hon. Gentleman’s argument is specious, and it is total nonsense.

Well, that was very helpful.


Coronavirus - COVID-19

Image by Olga Lionart from Pixabay

For the latest Government advice on the Coronavirus pandemic visit

For the latest medical advice visit