William Hague launches full 'audit' of EU law and the UK

William Hague at the 2011 Conservative party conference Mr Hague is under pressure from his party to repatriate powers from the EU

Related Stories

The government is launching a "comprehensive audit" of European Union powers and their impact on the UK.

In a Commons statement, Foreign Secretary William Hague outlined plans to scrutinise every aspect of EU law.

The audit is a "necessary and positive part of reforming Europe", he said, and is due to conclude in 2014.

Labour said that an urgent strategy was needed sooner than 2014 to inform the UK's response to greater political integration in the EU.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander also sought to highlight divisions in the coalition over the subject, pointing out that former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy was the only backbencher from his party to have listened to the statement in person.

Mr Alexander said Labour had "no objection to a proper, thorough and factual analysis of what the EU does and how it affects us in the UK".

But Mr Hague's statement had seemed "contextless and rather ahistorical", he said.

'Less meddling'

Start Quote

We must take the opportunities for Britain to shape its relationship with Europe in ways that advance our national interest in free trade, open markets and co-operation”

End Quote William Hague Foreign Secretary

Since detailed proposals for greater economic union would be up for discussion at an EU summit due in December 2012, the audit would be too late to "inform the government's negotiating position" with EU leaders on the subject.

"The truth is that Britain urgently needs an effective Europe strategy, and an audit, while worthwhile, is not a substitute for a strategy," he said.

But Mr Hague said the audit would constitute "the most thorough and detailed analysis possible on the extent of EU powers", and would provide valuable evidence for policy-makers in the future.

"Government departments will be tasked with consulting and inviting evidence from everyone with a knowledge of, and interest in, the exercise of the EU's competences," he explained, "including, of course, committees of Parliament and the devolved administrations, but also businesses, civil society, other interested parties and individuals with expertise in and experience of each area.

"We will be equally interested to hear from car manufacturers about EU product standards as from NGOs about environmental policies, or security experts about combating organised crime."

Mr Hague denied that it was a consultation about disengaging or withdrawing from the EU.

"We must take the opportunities for Britain to shape its relationship with Europe in ways that advance our national interest in free trade, open markets and co-operation," he told MPs.

"That should involve less cost, less bureaucracy and less meddling in the issues that belong to nation states."

In response, Charles Kennedy said the review would help inform people about the coalition's "positive agenda for Europe" by providing a "constructive and serious British-led contribution to the wider European debate about how to modernise, reform and improve the EU".

He warned those calling for extensive repatriation of powers not to "hold the EU to ransom".


But Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons European scrutiny committee Bill Cash urged the foreign secretary to ensure that the audit focused on "the necessity for a referendum as soon as it can possibly take place".

Start Quote

For more than 30 years, our political class has done its best not to talk about our membership of the EU”

End Quote Lord Pearson of Rannoch Ukip peer

Tory MPs John Baron and James Clappison added their support for a referendum, and their Conservative colleague Philip Hollobone demanded that the audit consider whether the UK was better off in or out of the EU altogether.

"It will be a wide-ranging review," Mr Hague said, but he added: "It is not a review about a referendum."

The coalition agreement included a pledge to hold such a review, focusing on EU rules on working hours.

"We will examine the balance of the EU's existing competences and will, in particular, work to limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the United Kingdom," the agreement said.

Conservatives have long pressed for Britain to be exempted from the European Working Time Directive and other laws they see as harming Britain's economic competitiveness.

But Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg reportedly wants the review to be undertaken in a low-key manner to avoid souring relations with other EU member states.

Costs and benefits

The foreign secretary told the BBC in October that "excessive regulation" and "unnecessary interference into daily life" from EU institutions had contributed to a British sense of disillusionment over Europe.

But although he was in favour of repatriating powers from the European Union, he conceded that there was "no immediate prospect" of rebalancing power between the UK and the EU, he told the Andrew Marr Show.

Earlier this month, he returned to the programme to explain that the government wanted the opportunity to negotiate a "better relationship" between the UK and Brussels, which would include the return of some powers, before asking the British people to vote on the changes.

There would be a "very powerful" case for an EU referendum if member states agree a closer union, he added.

The audit is to be co-ordinated by the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office and will invite written evidence from British businesses and EU institutions.

Ukip peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch has long campaigned for an inquiry into the "economic costs and benefits arising from our membership of the EU".

"For more than 30 years, our political class has done its best not to talk about our membership of the EU," he told the House of Lords in November.

But the audit is reportedly not going to include a cost-benefit analysis, owing to the difficulty of quantifying such aspects of EU membership as foreign affairs influence.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The idea that European legislation is grinding the UK economy down is a complete myth. Employment laws in the UK are heavily biased towards employers and moving increasingly further that way. The real question is why should employees need to work excessive hours over the norm in the first place ? This is a clear example of politicians dismissing reality to push their own agendas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Dear Mr Hague,

    I work an eleven hour day five days a week.That is 55 hrs a week.I opted out of the 48hr week by signing a declaration that I was happy to do so.you have no idea of how the legislation in the UK works!Between the politicans and the british public we really are up the creek without a paddle

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    I trust that the government will hold at the forefront of their minds their duty of care to the citizens who employ them...

    ... but I won't hold my breath, self-interest and the good of their cronies will always outweigh their obligations to ordinary citizens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Don't bother with an audit? We already know the whole European/Euro experiment is a diaster for Britain. Spend the time, effort and money instead on getting us out asap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    All hail the three cheeked a*se infesting Westminister, Willy boy is going to audit/disscuss/review/investigate and basically just talk about the woe's europe inflict's upon us, just like immigration ,the banks, foriegn aid, the lords etc,etc,etc.
    We are ruled by people who are very good at talking but pathetic at putting thier words into action.
    Rip it up and start again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Sunday Skiver
    The Tories want their cake and eat it.

    -Wrong the Tories want Your CAKE so they can eat that too.

    The majority of the public even the anti European ones and it has to be said even sensible Conservatives understand the benefits associated with paying staff at a level which permits them to live without state subsidy.

    It's why Boris supports the living wage for London

  • Comment number 84.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Andrew C (54) is spot on. Other member states apply the principles of EU Directives much more pragmatically than us with much less added cost. The culprits in the UK are the HSE & EU who have fostered a fear of litigation culture leading to massive beaurocracy & cost for the most simplest of activities. In the UK the process has become more important than the product !

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    68. Martin

    58 name number 6 are you aware every intelligent person knows who gave the money to the olympics this shower were not in power then
    Wot like when the Tories authorised the millennium Dome but Labour got the blame for it?

    Is Vague back on the 14 pints a day?

    70. Iconoclast
    Declaration of human rights also needs reviewing
    Wrong blog mate European Council issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    This is just a `sop` to keep the baying Euro-Sceptics away from Cameron`s throat for a couple of years.
    Nothing will come of it despite wasting more taxpayers cash to fund it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    48.Russ Gladwish
    ‘Or have I just got too cynical?’
    No Russ, you haven’t.
    However, I think that it is not cynicism but abject recognition of the fact that being bent over a barrel for so many years (by all political parties), your bum is sore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    What are you 'not' going to tell us Mr Hague, I reckon you are gearing up to something so whats your game? Wonder what you're going come out with that we don't already know.... putting feelers out for a 'brain washing in action scheme'!

    Why NOW, why tell us now after the pan's simmered so long. You're up to something!

    With this coalition capers it sounds like a Cleggy warning shot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Why waste time on auditing the laws? We need a root and branch audit of where the magic money (that which is quantitatively eased) goes. From computer click through to the bankers. Where is all this cash going? Who creams off what and when? Let it all be published so we can choose who to damn for this horrendous mess of a crisis!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    The tories seem to think that getting back laws relating to how many hours we work, minimum wage and a persons working rights is what everyone wants in the UK. If thats the case you can see us working 12 hrs or more per day for less, whilst yesterday in parliament they were discussing the amount of hours an MP works. Sorry, but I would like a life outside of work with my family also.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Hmm. Working Time Directive. Remind us, Mr Hague, how many tax-payer funded holiday breaks do MPs, MEPs, MSPs, WMPs receive?

    Plus remind us how the above claim for ALL their overheads (not means-tested), including food, plus a salary minimum of £68K on top.

    In case you hadn't noticed, people work for less, and pay ALL their bills from their income.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Perhaps he should check whether it what comes from the EU that is intrusive, or what results from British Civil Service Gold Plating it. The Tories hate the EU because it stands up for ordinary people, not just the rich and powerful. Much of what the EU says is common sense, but not when Britain has added numerous criminal offences and pages of keeping civil servants in jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    69.Rodneys Uncle
    2 Minutes ago

    Tories not badly prepared for Government, they just had to climb into bed with the weak Liberals, which put a cat amongst the chickens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    It’s funny in the 2 sectors where we have seen so-called ‘light regulations’ in action are the Banks and the Press. If Mr Hague thinks these are shining examples then he needs his head examining!
    In the last 10 years, I have worked for Dutch, German, American and British managers and their quality of management follows that same order. More enlightened management in the UK please, not less!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    41. david kidd

    At least if it's Hague in charge, something might get done.
    Oh, has he climbed down from Ashcroft's lap?


    #59 Does doesn't it?
    # Ukipper
    laughably biased HYS and BBC the vast majority of people are sick of the EU, its unelected dictats, money grabs and the ECtHR.
    I'm far far sicker of the Murdoch and banking diktats

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Arrr Bill the loser will sort it out. Please dont speak for me Bill.


Page 14 of 18


More Politics stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.