How Has European Union Slowly Eroded the Sovereignty of the UK Parliament

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 3
Words: 568
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Study level: PhD

‘The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is one of the most fundamental elements of British constitution’ (Tabarelli 2013). According to this doctrine allows the parliament to adopt and alter the laws in a way it considers appropriate. Historically, the UK parliament had an unlimited legislative power, and the judicial system in the country was characterized by the restraining from the legislative interpretation or discretion. Nevertheless, the process of the European integration provoked the transformations in the political and judicial systems of the EU Member States. The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into the national law increased the judicial politicization and caused the regional separatism making it clear that further legal reforms and transformation of the UK legislative principles are inevitable.

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The process of the European integration invoked the changes in the political and legislative institutions were related to the expansion of the domestic courts’ authority and competency, the increase in the level of legal norms interpretation, and the creation of opportunities for interactions with the judicial institutions at the supranational level (Gifford 2010). Within the EU boundaries, the significance of the European Laws became emphasized. However, the acceptance of these laws is a challenging task for the countries centered in the principles of the parliamentary sovereignty (Rawlings, Leyland & Young 2013). For example, the UK courts are required to apply the Community Law associated with the civil and commercial laws that are basically different from the domestic legislative norms. As a result, the conflicts ‘between national and supranational rules’ continuously take place (Tabarelli 2013).

The conflicting situations caused by the inability to match domestic and Community laws, and the relevant Parliament’s acts are the subjects to the constant judicial scrutiny of the European Court of Justice. The traditional principle of sovereignty is compromised because the need for the broader interpretation of domestic laws and adjustment to European laws appeared. The case of Macarthy’s Limited vs. Smith demonstrates how the UK act was brought to the EU Community law. The case is related to the issue of equal payment. And the issue of ‘whether the Equal Pay Act of the United Kingdom (1970) implemented Article 119’ has passed through the several levels of UK domestic courts without success (Cowles, Caporaso & Risse-Kappen 2001). Finally, the European Court of Justice put the controversy to an end by requesting to adjust the Act to EU laws more adequately. This case is an example of the conflicting situation between domestic and supranational courts in which UK judges were required to choose between the traditional and new forms of legislation.

Based on this case, it is possible to observe that enforcement of European laws created a significant amount of the discretion in the interpretation of laws by domestic courts. As the result, ‘the formal power of judges’ significantly increased over time (Tabarelli 2013). Nowadays, the domestic judicial agents are considered the keepers of values and regulations imposed on the UK legislation. While the traditional UK laws were primarily regarded as the protectors of the institutions, newly adopted European legal instruments are focused on the protection of individuals (Cowles, Caporaso & Risse-Kappen 2001). The significant increase in the judiciary independence at the national level contradicts with the old constitutional arrangements and the principles of parliamentary sovereignty. And it is right to assume that the given changes in the UK judicial culture are the direct impact of the European integration and law enforcement.


Cowles, M, Caporaso, J & Risse-Kappen, T 2001, Transforming Europe: Europeanization and domestic change, Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

Gifford, C 2010, ‘The UK and the European Union: dimensions of sovereignty and the problem of Eurosceptic Britishness’, Parliamentary Affairs, vol. 63, no. 2, pp. 321–338.

Rawlings, R, Leyland, P & Young, A 2001, Sovereignty and the law: domestic, European and international perspectives, Oxford Scholarship Online, viewed 27 February 2016, via Oxford Scholarship Online.

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Tabarelli, M 2013, ‘The influence of the EU and the ECHR on ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty Regimes’: assessing the impact of European integration on the British and Swedish judiciaries’, European Law Journal, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 340–363.