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 290.

    It's not just worker's rights the tories wish to retrench.

    The EU in principle offers mechanisms for sanctions, in the event of departure from EHCR departures.

    People's Human Rights re property, protecting pension pots from receivers in bankruptcy, and property equity in repo are also in the crosswires.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    My recollection is we had some concept of 'rights' in this country long before De Gaulle said "Non".

    Pity the French did not stick to their guns, for all our sakes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    COMMON SENSE PLEASE!!!!!!!!!, we are as a western nation / european nation we cannot compete, if we keep the way we are going, Western life will fall behind, my question will the Eastern goverments do what the West areoffering to help?

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Don Quixote still tilting at windmills!

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.


    We've sacked loads of people at our firm for being incompetent and not up to scratch.It's easy,if you can't notice your useless staff within the first few weeks then the managment is useless.You can sack someone in the UK in 1st 6 months with no comeback what so ever.
    Managment in the UK leaves a lot to be desired,especiall if you are one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    If Scotland can have Devo Max from the UK then surely the UK can have devo max from Europe if it wants that is only logical and commonsense. Would prefer to have people I elect make laws for me not commissioners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    What this tells me is that nobody keeps an upto date record of what laws are in place. What do the Civil Service do, if they cannot maintain a log book of the EU Laws. Mind you, one assumes with all the EU bureaucrats they keep a decent record of the laws they have passed, so a simple letter to Brussels asking for the latest position should do the trick. Finished by 2014 - next week is too slow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    280.Andy 1 - please read number 32.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    this referendum is just a choice between one group of out of touch idiots and another. The clowns in westminster are just as corrupt and inept as the clowns in europe.It's a rock and a hard place people and nothing more.They can get rid of as much legislation as they want but who will it benefit?it won't be for the great unwashed that's for sure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    266.Attila the Hungry
    "Now I can rest assured my rights are protected by the sovereignty of our trusted representatives...and our long tradition of free press upheld by Murdoch and the Mail."

    Seems to me there has been progress on both your points recently!
    Are you saying we have to buy the whole EU package to get human rights?
    Sounds dodgy to me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    I made my mine up that the UK should get out of the EU when a child was run down and killed by a driver from oversees who had no license, was off his head on drugs and had no insurance and was driving dangerously. The man couldnt be deported because the European Court of Human Rights said deporting him would be against his human rights. A load of soft lefties who need to get into the read world!

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    No need for an audit just leave. Get out of this rubbish that is the EU. Give Scotland independence. The massive amount of time that will save in Westminster the MPs can concentrate on solving problems here in the UK. Minus Scotland of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    Looking at the current miserable state of the politicians we have in the UK, both in Government and on the opposition benches, I look forward to the day when we are governed by a European parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    260. purpleDogzzz
    Try sacking someone who refuses to do their job these days.

    It's quite easy, you just have to go through a process that requires some effort and which is fair and reasonable. You can't perhaps just summarily sack someone. So we will scrap European rights laws just because some are too lazy or arrogant to follow a fair process?

  • Comment number 276.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    Why does it need to take until 2014 to do this; our government always drags it's feet at huge cost to us. If businesses worked at Government's pace they wouldn't exist. A week would be perfectly adequate for this exercise. The reason for this length of time is purely political.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    It seems labor laws in the UK are regressing back to the nineteenth century a new dominant social cast is emerging of the superwealthy with masses of overworked ants at the bottom of the pay scale while national wealth drifts ever upward to the few. The Occupy movement is a sign against social injustice and inequality. Things can not last a total rupture must come Olympics diversion aside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    On the face of it - it's a toss up.

    Become the tented enclave known as the 51st state (or Utopia as Liam Fox calls it)


    Take our chances with a fractured EU

    Lesser of 2 evils stuff this. Bit like Tory lite and the Tories really.

    If you're not likely to get ill in the next decade or 2, I'd recommend a trip to Millets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    I used to think that when we are writing the new Constitution in a post EU environment, the LabCon hegemony will have to be limited to a minor role haggling within 2% discretionary revenue raising / public expenditure bands.
    In any other context they have demonstrated they are not fit for purpose.
    However that sounds too much like something the EU has come up with!

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Speaking from working 20+years in UK and 4 years in Middle and Far East, Europe is miles behind in education and willingness to work! The world has moved on from our parents utopia.


Page 4 of 18


More Politics stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

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.