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

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map