Another twist in the debate about Europe

The first batch of results suggests the balance of power between Westminster and Europe is about right – which is bad news for David Cameron

Share

When the Prime Minister set out plans for a thorough-going audit of Britain’s relationship with Europe, the aim was to establish a basis from which to repatriate powers back to Westminster.

Instead, the first batch of results suggests the so-called “balance of competences” to be about right – which is good news for Britain but rather less so for David Cameron.

The Prime Minister has long been in a bind over Europe. Unlike the “swivel-eyed” backbenchers who want out at any price, his approach is more measured. There is much scope for improvement, he thinks; but, reforms accomplished, we are better off in. Faced with squalls of rebellion from Eurosceptic MPs spooked by Ukip, Mr Cameron tried to square the circle by promising not only to renegotiate our place in the EU but to hold an in/out referendum on the results of his handiwork.

To help things along, he ordered a vast stocktake (to run to 32 studies, in four tranches) to identify where Britain is most egregiously under Brussels’ heel. Except that the first six reports – looking at the single market, tax, foreign policy, healthcare, food safety and aid – failed to deliver. There are questions about some specific regulations. The Working Time Directive, for example, causes problems for junior doctors. And while most tax rules are set nationally, an EU-wide levy on financial transactions will hit the City hard. But these are mere quibbles; the broad picture is of a system in which Britain’s profits exceed its losses.

Although almost all foreign policy is decided in Westminster, we gain much from Brussels’ extra heft in trade talks. Similarly, while the single market comes with extra rules – sceptics’ loathed “red tape” – the boost to British business, both in Europe and globally, is of far greater consequence. Even the NHS gains more from foreign medics than it loses to health tourism.

No wonder Mr Cameron delayed publication until his MPs had safely left Westminster for the summer; and no wonder he refused the high-profile launch favoured by the Liberal Democrats. Still, Eurosceptics were quick to cry foul. Never mind the 500 submissions from which officials drew their conclusions; they are still a “Whitehall whitewash” from a pro-Europe “bureaucratic elite”. The star turn at the circus was, of course, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, who dismissed the whole business as “a futile and cynical PR exercise” proving the Prime Minister’s duplicity.

In fact, the reverse is true. At the outset, the notion of a review did, indeed, appear to be a propaganda stunt – one designed to cloak the Prime Minister’s pre-conceived agenda. It did not help that, of our 27 EU counterparts, only Italy and Bulgaria responded to requests for evidence – a comment not only on the distractions of the euro crisis but also on the conclusions drawn in European capitals from Mr Cameron’s altogether gauche diplomacy.

Now, however, any notion of a stitch-up must surely be abandoned. After all, no one is more incommoded by this week’s conclusions than Mr Cameron himself. Even his more moderate assertions about the need to re-set Britain’s relationship with Brussels have been cut off at the roots, and his attempts to tread the line between the country’s best interests and his party’s neuroses are now trickier than ever.

All of which only increases the value of the three further batches of competence reports due by 2014. This week’s fulminations about a Europhile plot only confirm – yet again – the extent to which the EU debate is one of politics and politics alone. What are needed, more than anything else, are some hard facts – whether or not Mr Farage et al want to hear them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

To see how the establishment operates, you really needed to be at this week’s launch party for Andrew Marr’s new book

John Walsh
Ballots arrive to be counted at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre during the Scottish referendum in Aberdeen  

Scottish referendum: The pain that was inflicted on family and friends by David Cameron’s narrow politics

Andrea Calderwood
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week