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 330.

    Oh how does any country survive being out the EU lol, plenty of countries outside the EU export more than us to european countries and don`t have to be part of the EU.

    The EU isn`t exactly a massive success,its broken,the way it works breaks other countries. Germany is only a success because it makes things people want and stop foreign take-overs,got nothing to do with being in the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Just tell us how we can contribute to/ comment on the audit. Give the people a say for once (not just the pensioners who got a vote in 1975!

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    12 Minutes ago
    At various times in various countries I have employed people I found treating them with respect and making them feel valued went a long way in any language

    Yep, shame that so many Brit employers don't seem to understand that, isn't it? All too often still suffering from some ludicrous Victorian ideas of 'ownership'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Mr Hague and the 'Little Englander' section of his party want to grow up!
    The EU doesn't make laws without British consent. We are full members of The EU, have MEP's and the Prime Minister attends summits and enacts EU laws through the British Parliament.
    Why, Oh Why is it they try to give the impression that this country is always powerless? Time to be at the heart of The EU not on the sidelines.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    This is a smokescreen..... watch as Hague/Government perform a slight-of-hand as we're distracted by this publicity stunt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.


    Leaving the ECHR would be a massive mistake, Churchill took us in to it just after the war, there are many good reasons for being a member.

    As far as the UK is concerned we already have the Human Rights Act 1998 which details how the ECHR will be applied in this country. That could do with updating but it's all that is required, no new laws needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Rights are balanced too far towards employers??? In what universe? Try sacking someone who refuses to do their job these days. You'll be in a tribunal before you can blink!

    At various times in various countries I have employed people I found treating them with respect and making them feel valued went a long way in any language!

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    The working time directive may well be a serious issue between some employees and bosses, but it's a diversion.

    We are being softened up to give the right answer in any referendum.

    The last push before federation.

    I'm old enough to remember the big lie last time: 'Join a Common Market'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    An audit? Its just another delaying tactic. We need to get out, otherwise when individuals learn the state can not be trusted to spend our taxes wisely - giving away a fortune to Europe, welfare dependency and NHS bureaucracy - those who are able will protect what they've got, while the rest will see their pitiful belongings scavenged by the rag and bone man of socialism, to recycle into votes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    People the miniumum wage was brought in by Labour not the Eu it was one of the best things Blair did . The working time directive is different the arguement about it is do you want to decide how many hours you work or a bureacrat. My concern with the EU is Victorian conditions being imposed on Greece,Spain and Italy by Barosso and his cohorts its not good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    EU President is elected by the heads of Europe such as your PM,
    not by the European voters directly themselves

    Do you really want to give up your country's independence+democracy
    to a foreign power to dictate how they want to run your country for you?

    British people are smart enough to run their country on their own
    but do you have the motivation to do so?

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    If iwant to work long hours why should i have to sign a form, The E U has and always will be a dictatorship to what ever country it needs to control ,Time to put a stop to it all laws must be governed by their own country not somebody in Brussels who was not elected by the british people

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Ah litlle Billy pretending he is doing something just lik he used to pretend he was doing when he failed to be PM, in fact in view of his failure at that what on earth makes him think ANYONE is listening to him at all, time to get back in the playpen little Billy

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    314 I know that !. We should leave the European Convention and have our own British Bill of Rights it was the only decent idea the Tories had. As for the EU I am open minded but would prefer us claiming powers back on democratic grounds I prefer to elect my lawmakers not have laws imposed by a unelected bureaucratic elite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    284. Violet Mildred

    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.
    Indeed Mildred, in fact some of our fundamental long established laws seem to have become buried in a sea of subterfuge....fraud on an industrial scale springs to mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    This is a poor attempt to stall the threat of a referendum in which well over 60% of us would vote "OUT" right now. They're trying to blow the wind out of UKIP's sails.

    "Let's not talk about it until 2014, eh Mr Farage? Willy's already doing an audit and he shan't be rushed!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    304.modharry - please read number 32, I'm afraid you are off on the wrong track.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    We don't need a long winded audit about the EU when we all know the EU has been and still is very bad for us.

    We need an in or out referendum on the EU and I'm sure the people of the UK will overwelmingly vote to come out. Job done!

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    Why this massive undertaking NOW (which, by the way I believe is too broad, most of it being unnecessary even for 2014 time-frame)? What is happening to the Angle/American copy machine - out of paper & ink perhaps?
    Well, you'll get no argument from me; I've been saying all the while Britain was hitched to the wrong star(s) and bangle(s).

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.


    All are false promises and unsustainable.
    3p It's not a popular perspective. I wish I could disagree with you.

    That said privatisation is failing us badly.


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