Conservative MPs Tell David Cameron To Take Powers Back From EU

Conservative backbenchers will today tell David Cameron he must claw back full British control over social and employment law from Brussels and warn the “status quo is no longer an option”.

The Fresh Start group, which is said to have wide support among the party, has called for the complete repatriation of the powers to be a priority and told the Government it “should not settle for anything less”.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has called its report a “well-researched and well-considered document” and suggested some of its contents could become party policy.

Mr Cameron is due to meet Conservative Cabinet members today to brief them on the details of his long-awaited speech on Europe and is almost certain to face questions about its keenly-anticipated contents at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Fresh Start, founded by George Eustice, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Heaton-Harris, will use the intense focus on Europe as an opportunity to launch its “manifesto for change” of Britain’s relationship with the EU.

The document will demand the repatriation of key powers that the MPs believe are vital if the UK is to retain “national democratic accountability”.

It calls for “significant revisions” to EU treaties, including the repatriation of all social and employment law, such as the Working Time Directive, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The UK should have an opt-out from all existing policing and criminal justice measures and an “emergency brake” on any new legislation that affects financial services, it adds.

According to the newspaper, MPs also want an end to the European Parliament’s venue switching between Brussels and Strasbourg as well as non-treaty change moves that could save billions annually, including reforming the EU budget for agricultural and fishing policy and repatriating regional policy.

Mr Hague, who is carrying out an audit across Whitehall of all EU powers, wrote in the foreword to the report: “It is a well-researched and well-considered document full of powerful ideas for Britain’s future in Europe and, indeed, for Europe’s future.

“Many of the proposals are already Government policy, some could well become future Government or Conservative Party policy and some may require further thought.”

Mr Eustice, a former press secretary to Mr Cameron, said: “Although it would be a mistake for the Prime Minister to set out a detailed shopping list this far in advance of any negotiations, these proposals are intended to stimulate debate, to highlight those areas where change is required and also to help inform the Government’s ongoing balance of competences review.”

Mr Cameron is expected to announce plans for a referendum on a new settlement with Brussels after the 2015 general election when he makes his Europe speech in the Netherlands on Friday.

He has rejected calls for an immediate in/out referendum on British membership, which he said would present voters with a “false choice”.

But he said it would be right to seek the “fresh consent” of the British people after negotiating a new settlement for the UK.

The PM is at the centre of an increasingly tempestuous storm within his own party over Britain’s future in Europe and relations with Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues are strained on the issue.

He faces demands from some Tory backbenchers for a public vote on EU membership while business leaders and grandees including Lord Heseltine have warned of the dangers of UK withdrawal.

Nick Clegg yesterday warned that uncertainty over the UK’s membership of the EU could have a “chilling effect” on the economy.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the public should only get a say if there was a transfer of powers to Brussels but denied breaking a pre-election promise of a popular vote.

“I do not think we should do anything to jeopardise our leadership (in Europe) and we certainly should not do anything which would have a chilling effect on jobs in this country,” Mr Clegg told the BBC.

“We should be very careful at a time when the British economy is still haltingly recovering from the worst economic shock in a generation to create a very high degree and a prolonged period of uncertainty because in my view uncertainty is the enemy of growth and jobs and our priority, in this Government and in the national duty, has got to be to foster growth and jobs.

“If you are an investor investing in the United Kingdom to create jobs here it is unnecessary to create a high degree of uncertainty which might actually chase away that investment and might diminish the number of jobs in this country.”

Mr Cameron has already held telephone talks with Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to discuss his approach to the issue and will make further calls to EU leaders before the speech.

Mrs Leadsom told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “In our manifesto we are very carefully treading a fine line between calling for things that are just going to be a non-starter, where the rest of Europe will say ‘Just forget it’, and choosing those topics that are really important to Britain, that would really be a game-changer for Britain’s relationship with the EU, and I think that our manifesto actually does walk that fine tightrope.

“Certainly, from my conversations with European politicians over the last few months, when we actually get down to the nitty gritty of what is it that Britain wants, they don’t think it’s all utterly impossible.”

It was an “extraordinarily unlikely event that the rest of the EU literally wants to throw out the baby with the bathwater and see Britain leave”, she said, rejecting claims that it amounted to “blackmail”.

She said there was “a wealth of evidence” about how the working time directive was hampering new businesses.

“I guess if you were to say our priority is ‘more trade and less of the other stuff’ that’s true,” she added.