Which is better: UK or EU democracy?

Jon Danzig |

linked in eu v uk democracyThe European Union consists of 28 member states. All treaty changes or enlargement of the EU require the unanimous consent of every single member, however large or small.

The Union of the United Kingdom consists of four member states: England, Scotland, Wales and the province of Northern Ireland.

In the referendum, two of them voted to remain in the EU: Scotland and Northern Ireland. Yet the UK government is going ahead with Brexit, without the unanimous consent of all the UK’s member states.

That couldn’t happen in the European Union, where all member states of the EU, however large or small, each have an equal vote and a veto on new treaties.

If the UK was run on the same democratic principles as the EU, then the UK could never leave the European Union without the unanimous agreement of all its four members: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But in last year’s EU referendum, the democratic wishes of Scotland and Northern Ireland were ignored by the UK government, splitting the United Kingdom in two.

Similarly, Gibraltar – a British Overseas Territory which also had a vote in the EU referendum and strongly chose Remain – also saw their objections to Brexit ignored.

Even though Northern Ireland voted for Remain, one party – the pro-Brexit DUP – is being allowed to dictate what future relationship the province will have with the EU (and therefore the entire UK’s relationship with the EU), because it’s only that party that’s keeping the Tories in power.

The EU’s remaining 27 member states will have a greater say and vote on the final Brexit deal than the devolved areas of the UK and the overseas territory of Gibraltar.

Even the European Parliament will have a greater say on Brexit than our Tory government wants to give our Parliament in Westminster.

Brexiters claim that the EU is ‘undemocratic’.

But in reality, the EU is more democratic than our system in the UK, where we still have an unelected second chamber; where the wishes of devolved UK states can be ignored, and where we still have an antiquated voting system of first-past-the-post (MEPs are voted to the European Parliament using a system of proportional representation).

Brexiters tell us that the EU is run by faceless bureaucrats.

But the truth is that all EU laws can only be passed by the democratically elected European Parliament, in concert with the Council of Ministers, that comprise the ministers of democratically elected governments of EU member states.

The European Commission is the servant of the EU, and not its master. The European Parliament elects the Commission President, has to approve each Commissioner, and has the power to dismiss the entire Commission.

If that isn’t democratic, I don’t know what is.

This time last year, Brexiters mocked that a region of Belgium, called Wallonia, had the power to block the new free trade agreement between Canada and the EU.

But that shows how Belgium, a country only a tenth the size of the UK, has a better democracy than ours.

Under Belgium’s constitution, regional parliaments such as the one governing Wallonia, must give their unanimous agreement before Belgium, as an EU member state, can give its consent to any EU Treaty.

The regions of Belgium have much more democratic power than our devolved parliaments of the UK. That’s how Wallonia came to block the EU-Canada agreement, called Ceta.

Eventually, Wallonia sought and received assurances about the Ceta deal, and lifted their objections, so the EU-Canada free trade agreement could go ahead, which it did.

The EU-Canada trade agreement, incidentally, is calculated to be worth an estimated £1.3bn a year to Britain – but of course only whilst we are an EU member.

Last year, whilst the parliaments of Belgium and other EU countries were democratically considering Ceta, the UK’s international trade secretary, Liam Fox, had to apologise to MPs for not allowing our Parliament to have a debate on the Ceta deal.

There’s something else that makes Belgium arguably more democratically accountable than the UK.

Since 1894 voting in Belgium’s elections has been compulsory. Everyone must vote.

Contrast Belgium’s system of compulsory voting with what happened in Britain’s referendum last year, where around 20 million people who could vote, didn’t vote.

That included around 13 million who registered to vote but didn’t, and around a further 7 million who could have registered to vote, but didn’t.

What a difference 20 million voters could have made to the EU referendum result if it had been compulsory for them to vote.

Polls indicate that those 13 million who registered to vote but didn’t would have supported Remain 2-to-1.

So, in summary:

  • The Tory government is going ahead with Brexit, without the unanimous consent of all the UK’s countries, and without the consent of our overseas territory, the state of Gibraltar.

  • Although Northern Ireland voted for Remain, just one small Northern Ireland party, the pro-Brexit DUP, is being allowed to have the final say on the province’s (and therefore the UK’s) future relationship with the EU, because that party is keeping Mrs May and her Tories in office.

  • The Tory government hasn’t allowed Parliament to have a vote on whether Britain should leave the EU, saying the decision was already made by the referendum (even though the Supreme Court ruled that only Parliament could make the decision, as the EU referendum was advisory only).

  • The Tory government does not want our Parliament to have a proper vote on the final Brexit deal.

  • The Tory government doesn’t want our Parliament to have a say on which EU laws brought into UK law should be kept, amended or scrapped. 

So, which has the better system of democracy: the EU or the UK?

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► Watch Jon Danzig’s video: ‘Why the EU referendum was flawed’