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Sovereignty versus Influence

European Unity and the Conceptualization of Sovereignty in British Parliamentary Debates, 1945–2016

Teemu Häkkinen and Miina Kaarkoski

It is not a coincidence that perceptions of sovereignty were key reasons why the United Kingdom referendum on European Union membership ended in a victory for the Leave side. In this article, we will apply methods of conceptual history to parliamentary debates in order to trace the development of sovereignty as a political concept in Europe-related debates through studies of four periods between 1945 and 2016. We will show that both supporters and opponents of European unity deliberately used the British position on sovereignty in political struggles throughout the analyzed period. The concept was used above all to describe the traditional view of the supremacy of British parliamentary sovereignty, but it was also used for different purposes to create a perception of how sovereignty could or could not be modified in dealing with an integrating Europe.