So now we have the evidence, what are our leaders going to actually do about it? Especially the bit about our own civil servants ‘gold plating’, that can be fixed immediately.
By Robert Watts – Sunday Telegraph – 21st July 2013
COMPLYING with European Union regulations is costing Britain billions of pounds a year, the first official audit of the cost of membership is to disclose.
The burden on British businesses will be laid bare in a series of reports which will be published tomorrow by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.
The audit is made up of six reports – called “Balance of Competences” – which civil servants have spent months preparing.
Senior Conservatives hope the reports will form the bedrock of a renegotiation with Brussels, if David Cameron wins the 2015 general election.
Evidence published alongside the reports will show:
• More than 400 new laws have been passed by the European Parliament since the Coalition was formed three years ago, with legislation costing British business £676 million a year;
• Complying with the EU Agency Workers’ Directive costs British firms as much as £1.5 billion a year;
• Less than half of foreign aid money paid by EU institutions goes to help the world’s poorest people.
The initial documents will look at how the EU affects British taxation, health, overseas aid, foreign policy, animal welfare and food safety.
One of the reports will also provide an overview of how the single market affects British businesses.
A further 26 reports will be published in coming months, in a boost to the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservatives.
However, Tory Government sources indicated that Lib Dem elements of the Government had “sexed down” some of the more critical evidence of EU waste and bureaucracy.
“These are sober documents that provide evidence and analysis about Britain’s relationship with Europe – they do not set out future Government policy,” said a senior Foreign Office source.
It is understood one of the key themes of the reports will be that civil servants in Whitehall often “goldplate” EU regulations unnecessarily to make such laws more onerous than necessary.
Open Europe, the Euro-sceptic think tank, described the reports as a “useful exercise that will inform the EU debate for years to come”. Stephen Booth, a researcher for Open Europe, added: “Unless this review is complemented by a more political strategy to set out the parameters of a future EU renegotiation to secure more flexible UK membership terms, it will not be sufficient.”
The Prime Minister ordered the series of reports on EU influence in July 2012. The documents focus on how each Whitehall department is influenced by the EU, as part of the Prime Minister’s plan to negotiate a new deal without forcing Britain to leave the EU entirely.
The Government also sent out a wider survey to all 26 member countries asking for their opinions on the balance of power between the EU and national parliaments. However, Mr Cameron’s aims received a setback when France and Germany declined to take part in the exercise.
A senior Lib Dem source confirmed that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and other fellow party members had been through the Balance of Competences studies. “We have fed into and amended these documents just as we would any government reports,” the source said.
“These documents are not about providing Tory Euro-sceptic headbangers with ammunition to help Britain leave the EU. This is serious, meaty work to assess the pros and cons of what the European Union does for Britain.”
A submission by the British Chambers of Commerce will argue that though its members value the single market, firms often feel stifled by regulations.
“Many of the rules governing the Internal Market are overly complex and expensive to comply with, which has resulted in burdensome and unacceptably high regulation costs for UK business,” it reads.
“The widespread feeling among chamber members is that there have been a number of instances where they were provided with insufficient warning or advice before a new rule was introduced.”
Support for Mr Cameron has rallied on the Tory’s traditionally Euro-sceptic back benches since he set out a new policy on Europe earlier this year.
The Prime Minister said that if the Conservatives won the next general election he would seek to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe. Once the negotiation is complete, Mr Cameron would ask the British public whether it wants to remain part of the EU in an “in-out referendum”, to be held by 2017 at the latest.
So far, the Conservatives are the only party to commit to an EU referendum. However, a private member’s Bill tabled by the Tory backbencher James Wharton aims to introduce legislation that would oblige any party that won the next election to hold such a vote.
In an interview with The Telegraph this weekend Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, urged Mr Cameron to set out clearly what he hoped to achieve from a renegotiation with Europe. “We should be driving for a very profound renegotiation with Europe with very little political integration,” he said.