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 350.

    This is simply meaningless posturing to appease the europhobes. We are in Europe so let's get over it and make it work to our advantage instead of sitting on the sidelines and snivelling. Isn't that what every other country does?

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    I suggest that the Conservatives do something about it before May 2015 because they certainly won't get the chance after then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    What the Tories don't like is the way our European partners respect their fellow humans. They want everyone to be greedy, bigoted people haters and exploiters of the workforce like they are. Look after number one is there motto. As soon as euro employment laws came in to protect workers from exploitation they were baying for withdrawal. You can see right through them. Its fair laws they hate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    This smacks of realizing that UKIP is making rapid, even phenomenal progress and inroads into the European debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    It's probably the EU's fault that the UK's olympics and border controls is the laughing stock of the world...it'll be all that red tape I expect.

    No way would it have been a shambles if the UK had it's own sovereignty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    He can audit the EU but not the Banks. Fair enough, but when he does audit the EU he might want to audit who the voters are: not the public. He might want to consider who has been appointing people for decades: ministers not citizens. He cannot just pick on the bits of legislation he finds distasteful (like the EU Register of Lobbyists).

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Here we go again. No need for a referendum, we already know the answer. Politicians don't represent the views of ordinary people. When issues are difficult they do the same thing. An audit, a review, an inquiry...... There must be more reviews going on than in the West End. In a poll of 60 million people, how many remember any of them? An audit confirms they don't have a clue what is going on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    As usual complete nonsense from the Torys.
    I run a business employing about 150 people, they are the Company's main asset. I want to treat them well, support and encourage them to do a good job and be happy. If things are not working out for what ever reason we follow our set procedure, train, support, monitor. The EU Working time directives are a good thing - not bad!

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    I reckon the biggest audit is yet to come, that will show the complete incompetence of the Labour party and finally wipe the smug smile off Mr.Bumbles face,that is the bubbling volcano about the PFI,s on schools and hospitals under Labours watch.Watch this space.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    If the anti-EU Tories are doing this for the sake of the British people then might I ask why the first laws they always refer to are those EU laws that actually make the average person's life better such as the working time directive? If the Tories were doing this for us, they wouldn't focus on laws that only help exploitative corporations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    Regarding human rights, the government has been successful in making the issue one of British politicians' law or European Judges' (including British judges) law.
    The real question for those advocating that human rights in the UK be decided by British politicians is "why should British citizens have fewer rights than everybody else in Europe?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Oh, here we go again with this ******** and his fanatical obsession with damaging our membership of the EU. Why doesn't he do eevrybody a favour if he doesn't like it and **** off to America then , who the hell would miss him anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    A comprehensive audit of EU law? Don't they analyse these things as they go along, debate them while they're being formulated, & even help in drafting them? Do I hear the guilty exec's excuse "Yes, I've been overseeing this for decades, but I have no (legally culpable) idea what's been going on". Do we really need two years of tory euro-sceptics exasperating about 'bad EU law' on a monthly basis?

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Surely he should be doing an audit on Cameron who is continually rubbing the British peoples noses in it by giving all our money away to to anybody but the British public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Germans work less hours than us etc etc ....How is it possible that with all these "terrible" things against them, their country does so much better than ours?
    1 reason only: they have better politicians than ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    332.Bill Walker
    This will only add to the disillusionment that the majority of voters feel about the E.U. without allowing a referendum.
    "The majority of voters"? That's a bit of a bold statement. Do you have any proof to back it up?

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    35 Minutes ago
    If iwant to work long hours why should i have to sign a form

    You shouldn't necessarily - unless you're driving a 40 tonne lorry, or working on construction with heavy equipment - or down a mine -
    and the WTDirective wasn't about taking away your choice - but rather to discourage employers from making you work double shifts &c., just to keep your job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    What does he mean by audit? Most business audits I have taken part in have been a complete waste of time and effort; and have cost a considerable amount of money. If he really means ‘Kick the tyres’ or ‘Kick it into the long grass’ then fair enough only I thinks he meant “Workers’ rights, who needs them?”

    No idea how to run a good business and clueless on good management.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Will it do any good to scrutinise European laws minutely, come up with a vast list of all the things wrong with them, then give the equivalent of a Gallic shrug and say there is nothing we can do about them? This will only add to the disillusionment that the majority of voters feel about the E.U. without allowing a referendum. Screw that safety valve down until she blows mr. Hague

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    I really believe that at this moment there are too many countries within the European union.To find sensible compromises is almost impossible, because everybody thinks their country would be better off outside.
    That Mr. Juncker was reestablished as boss of the Eurogroup ( the other members not wanting the German or French candidate for the time being ) shows, that we are still in the 20th century.


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