UK to review impact of EU laws, Hague announces
by Daniel Mason
The United Kingdom is to carry out an audit examining the impact of European Union laws on the country, foreign secretary William Hague announced today. He said the government believed the EU should involve "less cost, less bureaucracy and less meddling in the issues that belong to nation states".
Speaking in the House of Commons, Hague said the review would "look at where competence lies, how the EU's competences, whether exclusive, shared or supporting, are used and what that means for our national interest". The audit will begin this autumn and be completed in 2014.
"The government is committed to playing a leading role in the EU and protecting the UK's national democracy," Hague said, adding that membership was "in the UK's national interest". But, he said: "The EU needs to reform to meet the challenges of competitiveness, a stable eurozone and greater democratic legitimacy." It should be made "absolutely clear when it is most appropriate to take the decisions at the national or local level, close to the people affected, and in other cases when it is best to take action at the EU or global level", he said.
Douglas Alexander, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, said the opposition had no objections to the audit but suggested the timing of the launch was designed to calm tensions in the Conservative party over the issue of Europe. It comes after Prime Minister David Cameron was put under pressure by 100 Conservative MPs who signed a letter urging him to commit to a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU in the next parliament.
Meanwhile senior Conservative and former defence secretary Liam Fox said life outside the EU "holds no terror", and Hague himself said there was a "very powerful" case for a popular vote if other member states moved towards a more deeply integrated union. But questioned by backbench Conservatives today, the foreign secretary insisted the initiative was "not a review about a referendum".
Conservatives have long argued for the repatriation of some powers from the EU and a looser relationship based on trade. But the current coalition with the more pro-Europe Liberals Democrats has complicated the issue. It has been reported that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg wants the review to be as low key as possible so that it does not have a negative impact on relations with other EU countries.
The review will be carried out by all government departments in the policy areas for which they are responsible. Businesses, civil society, non-governmental organisations, EU institutions, parliamentary committees and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will be among those invited to submit evidence. Hague said it "should be seen as a necessary and positive part of reforming Europe".
He said the government would continue to support the existence of "multiple forms of EU membership" – with the UK opting out of the single currency and Schengen while playing a "leading part" in completing the single market and championing free trade. But it would be left to individual political parties to decide on any policy recommendations that arise from the review, he added.
"Such a comprehensive piece of work has never been undertaken but is long overdue. It will ensure that our national debate is grounded in knowledge of the facts and will be a valuable aid for policy-makers in the future."
However, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, claimed the plans did not go far enough. He said the government was "set to create an inquiry that will report back just in time for the European elections, no doubt to tell us that everything is just fine thank you. I have a reasonable suspicion that this audit will be set up in such a way as to provide the answer it wants to hear."
Another waste of money, ConDems cannot do anything about the results of this farce. Indeed, the Libs dont want to.
The General - Bradford, Yorkshire
They are all determined to keep us in the hell-hole EU.
Danny - Birmingham, Great Britain
Such an audit is a waste of time. The whole European Project is illegal from start to finish and has no validity whatsoever under English constitutional or common law. The European Communities Act of 1972 and all of the subsequent European treaties are null and void and all those responsible for bringing them about should be arrested and brought to justice in an English court, tried by an English judge, under English law in front of an English jury and sentenced accordingly.