Tory Eurosceptics give Cameron list of demands for reform
Fresh Start group is accused of 'snarling like a pit bull' over calls for radical change
Conservative backbenchers will pile pressure on David Cameron this week ahead of his critical speech on Britain's relationship with the European Union, by demanding radical reforms in key areas including policing, justice and employment laws.
The Fresh Start Group's "Manifesto for Change" will set out demands for five treaty changes and 12 reforms it insists must be made to "rebalance" the UK's position in the EU. The Independent on Sunday understands that the overhaul includes opting out of 131 EU policing and criminal justice laws, and clawing back powers over working hours and extraditions.
The Prime Minister will make a landmark speech in the Netherlands next week setting out his own plans to bring back powers from Brussels before putting them to a public vote after the next election. The set-piece event has reopened familiar Conservative splits over Europe, with several Tories joining colleagues from around the world in warning against weakening ties with Brussels.
Lord Heseltine criticised Mr Cameron's strategy yesterday, saying an "ill-advised" referendum would jeopardise the UK's business prospects – while the party's leader in the European Parliament complained that the UK was "snarling like a pit bull across the English Channel".
Another Europhile Tory, Ken Clarke, is expected to join forces with Labour peer Lord Mandelson to mount a counter-offensive against the rising tide of Euroscepticism. Along with Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard, they will spearhead the "Centre for British Influence through Europe" (CBIE) to oppose plans to disengage from the European project, according to a report in The Observer.
But the Fresh Start blueprint will concentrate Eurosceptic demands for a radical reallocation of powers if the UK is to remain in the EU. Andrea Leadsom, one of Fresh Start's founding members, said she hoped Mr Cameron would make it clear that "the status quo for Britain is not an option". She said the working time directive, which limits the number of hours employees can work, was being targeted for change – and suggested the UK should opt out of controversial laws on extraditing suspects within the EU and instead negotiate individual treaties with member states.
"With the eurozone crisis, there is no way the EU will ever be the same again," the South Northamptonshire MP said. "The eurozone seeks further integration and we must not stand in their way. The British people do not want to go down this route, and we must articulate a sustainable alternative."
Among the legislation targeted for change or "repatriation" is the "Prüm" regime requirement for mass sharing of data on criminals and ordinary citizens, and measures aimed at harmonising standards of criminal law, the prohibition of drugs and the balance between hate crimes and free speech. The manifesto argues that these should "be left to elected and accountable UK lawmakers to decide and the UK Supreme Court to interpret".
The authors of the manifesto claim that the UK should exercise its "block opt-out" from 131 of the EU's policing and criminal justice laws by May 2014 to allow Britain to retain national democratic accountability over its lawmaking. Rather than opting back in to any of these EU laws individually, the UK should pursue operational co-operation with EU partners through other means.
In a sign of how Mr Cameron is being influenced by the right of his party on Europe, the details of his plan which were reported last week are remarkably similar to that put forward by the Eurosceptic former defence secretary Liam Fox. In October, Mr Fox called for a renegotiated settlement with Europe, followed by a yes or no question in a referendum. Although the former minister and Mr Cameron have differences of view on the timing – Mr Fox has called for the terms of the renegotiation to be in place by this year's Tory conference – the Prime Minister is also thought to be leaning towards calling for a renegotiated settlement followed by a referendum.
Mats Persson, director of the think tank Open Europe, said it would be risky for Mr Cameron to set out specific terms for a renegotiated settlement and referendum so far in advance.
Although The Mail on Sunday last night claimed Mr Cameron believed it would be "mad" for Britain to leave the EU, and is secretly backing a move by Tory MPs to warn of the perils of cutting ties with Brussels, he is understood to sympathise with Fresh Start's ambition of renegotiating the most objectionable of EU regulations. But the timing of its manifesto launch will intensify the pressure to satisfy all the contending elements within his party and beyond.
Senior US official Philip Gordon spoke out last week against a referendum, claiming that Washington wanted Britain to remain a "strong voice" in the EU. The warning was echoed by leaders across Europe, particularly after George Osborne suggested in the German newspaper Die Welt that the UK could leave the EU if Brussels failed to reform.
The Bundestag's European affairs committee chairman, Gunther Krichbaum, said during a visit to London that a referendum could leave the UK isolated in Europe. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is believed to be cooling on plans to call for the major revision of EU treaties that would give Britain a chance to claw back some powers.
The belligerent rhetoric has dismayed many Tory Europhiles. Lord Heseltine said: "To commit to a referendum about a negotiation that hasn't begun, on a timescale you cannot predict, on an outcome that's unknown, where Britain's appeal as an inward investment market would be the centre of the debate, seems to me like an unnecessary gamble."
Richard Ashworth, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, said: "Looking from Brussels towards Westminster, the tone sounds like it's them against us, and it simply isn't like that. We are taking an aggressive stance, snarling like a pit bull across the Channel. There are a lot of nations who are on our side. If we are talking about partnerships, we are making ourselves look pretty unattractive."
Mr Cameron's choice of 22 January to make his speech may be arbitrary (although it will be 96 years since US President Woodrow Wilson called for "peace without victory" in war-torn Europe).
But the decision has outraged the French and Germans, who will be marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Elysée treaty, which sealed their post-war reconciliation and underpins the EU project.
"Choosing the 50th anniversary of the most important treaty between France and Germany to make a big anti-EU speech is a grotesque perversion," said former Europe minister Denis MacShane. "It's like a religious day for them."
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