UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Parliamentary sovereignty and the challenge of European community law in the United Kingdom Fleming, Paul Daniel Richard


The omnipotence of Parliament is one of the cardinal features of the British Constitution. It has traditionally been believed to consist of the dual propositions that there is no subject on which the Queen-in-Parliament may not legislate and, that no Parliament may bind a successor. Despite periodical challenges, the doctrine had crystallized into orthodoxy by the 19th century. Inasmuch as anything in British constitutional law is definite, the existence of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty seems secure. However, this apparent security masks a vigorous debate among commentators over what the doctrine actually means today. The debate has been fuelled by the implications arising out of Britain’s accession to the European Community (EC), which views its own legal order as overriding any conflicting laws of its constituent member states. Some two centuries after becoming established as orthodoxy, the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is now facing its greatest test. The current legal situation created by Britain’s membership in the EC poses the greatest threat to the doctrine’s theoretical usefulness in explaining the British constitution as it actually operates today. It is argued that the present doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, in light of the EC, means no more than that the United Kingdom retains the right of total withdrawal from the EC and that this right is vested in the Queen-in-Parliament as a result of Britain’s constitutional history. The traditional notion of parliamentary sovereignty, which encompassed far more than a simple equivalence of parliamentary and national sovereignty, has been overtaken by new political and legal facts.

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