David Cameron 'trying to exempt UK from EU laws on working hours and agency staff'

Downing Street dismissed the claims as 'speculation' but said the Prime Minister would try and cut back on 'unnecessary EU regulation'

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Downing Street has dismissed claims that David Cameron is set to push for the UK to be exempt from European Union employment laws as “speculation”.

Reports last night claimed the Prime Minister was attempting to restore legislative opt-outs from rules governing time limits on working hours and rights for temporary workers.

The Times and Daily Telegraph claimed the move was part of the Government’s attempts to redefine Britain’s relationship with the EU ahead of the in/out referendum by the end of 2017.

Mr Cameron is reportedly seeking opt-outs from the Working Time Directive and Temporary Agency Work Directive

They said the social chapter which covers areas including equal opportunities and working conditions was being targeted.

The working time directive joined by the last Labour government imposes a 48-hour limit on the working week, with specified rest periods and regulations on annual leave, which can be ignored by workers.

Mr Cameron is also believed to be seeking an exemption for the UK from the directive on temporary agency work, which guarantees people working through employment agencies equal pay and conditions to permanent workers doing the same job.

A senior Tory quoted in The Times said: “A big item is the return of the opt-out from social and employment legislation that would include the working time and temporary worker directives.

“For later on, we want a protocol and line in a future treaty saying employment conditions are the responsibility of member states.”

Labour said the mooted demands appeared to be aimed at keeping the Conservative Party happy, rather than improving Britain's relationship with the EU.

“Tearing up rights at work is no basis for winning support to stay in a reformed EU, which is what the Prime Minister claims is his objective,” said Pat McFadden, the party’s spokesperson for Europe.

Mr Cameron's demands ahead of the vote on whether to sever ties with Brussels include measures to restrict welfare for EU migrants, an escape from “ever-closer union” in Europe, greater powers for national parliaments and protections for countries without the Euro.

Tony Blair's administration signed the working time directive soon after coming to power in 1997

Britain had previously secured the right to opt out of some legislation covering social and employment rules but it was given up by Tony Blair during his tenure as Prime Minister.

A spokesperson for Downing Street said the reports were more of the “speculation” it had expected during negotiations.

"The Prime Minister has set out the four priority areas for reform and made clear that cutting back on unnecessary EU regulation is part of making Europe more competitive,” he added.

"As the PM has said before - Europe if necessary, national when possible."

Additional reporting by PA