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

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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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    How about a audit of UK domestic Law asking

    How much it cost to produce.
    Was it well drafted on time successful.
    Did it achieve its objective.
    How do our lawmakers stack up on the international scale
    I believe they top the list for days off, pension benefits, shortest working day etc.

    I thought they were discussing the HoL
    Chuffing useless

    Solved the healthcare crisis, pay more change headline

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    The Tories want the financial benefits of trading in the Single Market but don't want the UK workforce to benefit from the Social Chapter.
    Aided by the unrelenting anti-EU bias in the right-wing press which has contributed to the' British sense of disillusionment over Europe'.
    The more socially cohesive culture in the EU is anathema to the Tories and their business sponsors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    This review is about all EU legislation not about employment law per se. When presented with an EU directive that it is detrimental to the UK we should either opt out if we can or enact the bare minimum and over the longest period of time. The problem has been that enactments have been "gold plated" by an overzealous civil service. Clearly some of the more barking legislation needs to be repealed

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    re99 Dooljm012

    lol, how is it enough to justify an in/out referendum?
    the last thing our economy needs is for the inconsitent,contradictory and moronic uk populace to make decisions they have no clue about unless it's to fullfill their racist and narrow minded outlook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Never mind pretending to do " audits " just arrange an in or out referendum to give the people a say in our future. If we do not get out of this useless bureaucratic morass, then today's cuts will look like small beer compared with the storm about to come because of the European Union which sucks the resources of it's member nations and squanders them on unaudited corruption and waste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    A major problem with our EU membership is that the UK Government frequently "gold plates" EU directives, while elsewhere in the EU they either apply them as received or ignore them.

    The UK government also wishes to opt out of anything that will benefit the lives of the majority, so the ordinary person in the street sees little or no benefit in our membership. Yet life is so much better there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Roscoff - two men wearing life jackets & gloves released the Ferry's mooring lines. Plymouth - six men, day-glo overalls, safety boots, gloves, hard hats, life jackets, safety glasses & a body harness tied the ferry up. All eight men went home without injury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    politicians don't half leave the electorate in a pickle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Although an anti EU person myself I will say that the Working Time Directive is one of the few positive things to emerge from our membership. No surprise though that a government which is opposed to workers rights thinks that this should be top of a review agenda. There are other more worthy items for discussion.

  • Comment number 101.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    "Keep it Vague, send for Hague"

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Did it not make sense to actually do an analysis of the effects of EU legislation BEFORE we signed our lives away, however if these were done but the legislation that was put in place is different then surely that is enough to justify an IN/OUT referendum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.


  • Comment number 97.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Well let's face it the only things that the government want to do is cut back on peoples rights and impose an American style capitalism instead of the more social model of Europe. They'd love to go back to the 19th centuary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Ironic that tories want audits where they're least needed.

    Crime in banking - does that need an audit?

    HMRC Corruption - In a week when Dispatches exposes the scams of the 'Guernsey set' masquerading as Board members of HMRC, it seems crazy that it's not being examined very publically?

    Just how morally repugnant do things have to become before the tories are forced to actually DO something!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    What on earth does William Hague know about competence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I see it is not to be finished before 2014 , just in time for the parties to use it in designing their manifesto commitments on the topic at the next election, where at least four versions of the results will be presented I am sure. It will not stop Eurosceptics pushing for a referendum commitment sooner if that is the hope, it will encourage them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Welcome to Swear Shop Britain, that is if you can find a job. Well all those who voted Tory and are now think why did I do that , heres news for you. You are to blame for this mess. The Labour party messed up massive now the Tories have an excuse to bring back Victorian working practices. I would now ask the Tories to just do as they really believe and bring back Slavery for workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Of course we all need to work longer, it's not like there's a surplus of labour right now, is it? Oh, wait...


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