Richard North, 31/12/2017  

The comments facility on Booker's column today is not open, which is perhaps just as well. He's writing about passports and the "familiar cry" that, on leaving the European Union, we will be able to reclaim "British sovereignty" and "take back control of our own laws".

The article is based on my post and one could imagine more than a few heads exploding by the time Sunday Telegraph readers have finished reading it.

Taking them head on, Booker asks many of those who happily intone the "sovereignty" and "taking back control" mantras have any idea just how many of the laws we imagine to have been imposed on us by the EU in fact originate from mysterious global bodies even higher than Brussels, which merely passes them on to us?

This is provocative stuff, of course – and especially to those who have been especially antagonistic towards Booker over the past months. These are the ones who have been posting increasingly acerbic comments, seeking to call into question his judgement but mainly just displaying their ignorance and bad manners.

Booker, on the other hand, is writing about laws which, on leaving the EU, we will find that, under a maze of international agreements, we still have to obey.

This then brings him to "all that excitement before Christmas" over the thought that we will no longer have to carry those widely hated burgundy-coloured "European Union" passports. As Theresa May herself tweeted: "The UK passport is an expression of our independence and sovereignty - symbolising our citizenship of a proud, great nation".

For additional entertainment, we also saw one newspaper front page trumpeting: "Make them in Britain", evidently unaware that we are bound by international procurement rules, not just those of the EU but also those of the World Trade Organisation.

These rules, says Booker, would require us to put out production of our new passports to international tender. Thus, we could well find our new UK passports being made by an EU country.

As for their contents, we shall find that almost every detail is also dictated by other international rules, so that they are recognised by every country in the world.

The ultimate arbiter of all these technical requirements is a UN body called the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), headquartered in Canada. It is to the ICAO we will have to submit the design of our new passports.

So it comes to pass that virtually the only detail we will be allowed to choose for ourselves will be the colour of our passports and, of course, the right to remove the words "European Union" from the front (which, according to some, we had anyway).

Thus, as far as our passports go, the only reward for all that prodigious effort of leaving the EU is to put us on a par with the independent countries making up the European Free Trade Association. And the colour we seem likely to choose is the same as that already used by little Iceland.

All of this, as Booker rightly points out, turns Mrs May's expression of our "independence and sovereignty" as a "proud great nation" into so much eyewash.

Looking at this in the round, it's as well we didn't go to all the trouble of campaigning to leave the EU just to change the colour of our passports and the wording on the front covers. There had to be something more than that.

When it comes to sovereignty, though, one of my earlier posts puts this issue into perspective. It illustrates my lack of concern over our supposed loss of sovereignty to Brussels, as I point out that the real issue is the sovereignty of the people.

There's a broader clue to this issue in that the original changes to our passport covers were triggered by a non-binding Council decision. Thus, it wasn't Brussels that enforced the changes. It was our own government.

Similarly, when it came to our membership of the EU, it wasn't Brussels that kept us tied to the treaties but, once again, our own government – aided and abetted by parliament.

Even as an EU member state, parliament was still sovereign but it allowed government, through the process of treaty ratification, to delegate much of its power to Brussels and EU institutions. At any time, it could have stopped power draining away from Westminster and ordered our government to recover the powers it had already given away.

As I was writing in 2016, therefore – before the referendum – our argument was not with Brussels. We were held in thrall to the European Union by our governments, but only because parliament allowed it. The people responsible – as a collective – were our MPs. Our argument was with them, and it took a referendum to overcome their inertia.

Now, in what amounts to the ultimate in arrogance, MPs pontificate about regaining the sovereignty of parliament and mention nothing about the people. This, of course, is where The Harrogate Agenda comes in.

What I wrote in 2016 still stands. MPs who had been so careless of their powers, and so indifferent to the prospect of recovering them could hardly be trusted to safeguard them for all time, and not to repeat their give-away. On that basis, I argued that we the people must recover our sovereignty, wresting it from a parliament which has been so reluctant to use it on our behalf.

Meanwhile, as if we didn't know already, Lord Adonis tells us that the entire system of government has become dysfunctional. "Good government", he says, "has essentially broken down in the face of Brexit. Normal standards of conduct are not being observed. Independent advice is being dismissed because remember experts were supposedly part of the problem".

In the view of the noble Lord, all the experts in Whitehall are trying to square the circle of leaving the EU, the Single Market, the customs union without undermining British trade and British jobs. But since that is an impossibility, even the best minds in Whitehall are not able to do it.

And also confirming what we are hearing from other sources, Adonis tells us that there is very low morale in Whitehall because almost no civil servants agree with the policy of the government. "I do not think there has ever been a period when the civil service has been more disaffected from the government it serves", he says.

One of those "other sources" is British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general Adam Marshall. Declaring that firms wanted clarity and results from the Government, he says that industry is dismayed by "division and disorganisation" across Westminster.

In the 18 months since the referendum, therefore, the only tangible thing we have to show for all our efforts is Mrs May's blue passports – her equivalent to buying off the natives with baubles and beads.

Sadly, too many people are content with the beads. The sovereignty that so many thought would be the prize from Brexit remains as elusive as ever it was.

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