Conservatives will fight for EU reform, says William Hague

William Hague William Hague said he had never changed his views on the European Union

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William Hague has insisted the Conservative leadership is "putting the case for a reformed Europe", despite rejecting a call by MPs for national parliaments to get a veto over EU laws.

The 95 Tory MPs want each state to be able to impose a "red card" if rules hurt the national interest.

The foreign secretary said this was impractical, as "common rules" had to be followed by all 28 EU members.

But he said national parliaments needed to have a "bigger role".

The Conservative leadership has promised that, if the party wins a majority at the next general election, voters will get an "in-out" referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017. This would follow a renegotiation of the UK's relationship with Brussels.

The commitment follows concerns over the direction the EU is taking - with eurozone countries becoming further integrated - and the effects of free movement of people across member countries.

'Common ground'

Meanwhile, the pro-European cabinet minister Ken Clarke has told the Financial Times that immigrants make the UK "far more exciting and healthier", dismissing claims that EU membership has caused "vast migrations" of foreigners.

The minister without portfolio also criticised "rightwing, nationalist escapism", which he said was informing debate on the issue.

Ken Clarke

The idea of a red card for of the EU's 28 national parliaments, proposed by the 95 MPs, was first put forward by the Commons European Scrutiny Committee last month.

In the letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, the MPs said the move would enable the government to "recover control over our borders, to lift EU burdens on business, to regain control over energy policy and to disapply the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights".

Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We do want to have a much bigger role for national parliaments. It's common ground in the Conservative Party and in the country that the powers of the European Union have increased too much, are too great and need to be diminished."

He added that a red-card system would "be part of the British position", but this would rely on groups of countries getting together to act - rather than individual member states having a veto.

Latest quarterly migration figures from the Office for National Statistics

Mr Hague said: "What you can't have in any system that relies on some common rules is each of the parliaments saying 'We are not going to abide by this or that arrangement'."

The foreign secretary, regarded as a Eurosceptic, also told Today: "I've never changed my view, which I characterise as in Europe but not run by Europe."

He said: "We are engaged in a negotiation process now... we are putting the case for a reformed Europe."

Asked about Mr Clarke's comments on immigration, Mr Hague said of people within the EU: "They should be able to move for work but not to take advantage of benefits systems."

Former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who also served as the EU's competition commissioner, told Today he agreed with Mr Hague, adding that "a country like the UK in practice relies heavily on a functioning single market across Europe".

He said: "If all parliaments and all member states were to be able to tear through small bits or big bits of the single-market legislation, then this would be a patchwork, not a market.

"One of the countries that would suffer most would be the UK."

A survey has suggested that more people think Britain should stay in the EU but try to reduce its powers (38%) than want to leave (28%).

The poll of more than 2,000 people for think tank British Future also found that people thought migrants who came to the UK from other European countries should learn English (69%), get a job and pay taxes (64%) and not claim benefits (48%).

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