EU Membership

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 3rd December 2013.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 11:30 am, 3rd December 2013

What his priorities are for reform of the terms of UK membership of the EU.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Which EU powers and competences he plans to renegotiate back to the UK.

Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Which EU powers and competences he plans to renegotiate back to the UK.

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

In his speech at the beginning of the year the Prime Minister set out five principles for real change in the EU: global competitiveness, democratic legitimacy, powers flowing back to nation states, flexibility, and fairness between eurozone and non-eurozone. Those are our priorities for reform.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the great majority of those reforms, and those set out in the Fresh Start project manifesto and others, can be achieved without treaty change, and that when we make it clear that the new reformed EU that most of us want to achieve is not just a case of promoting little-Englander interests, but rather trying to achieve a sustainable outward-looking, globally competitive EU for the benefit of all 28 nations, we increasingly find that we are pushing at an open door?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I warmly welcome the useful contribution that Fresh Start has made to the debate on EU reform, and I think my hon. Friend puts it extremely well. Indeed, many other countries are now also seeing that it is time to move on to new arguments and a new perspective on the European Union. For instance, following their investigation into subsidiarity, the Dutch Government said it should be ensured that EU action is taken only where necessary, with national action always pursued where possible.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House his top policy priority for renegotiation, which will have most influence on him and whether he votes to stay in or leave the EU?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am not going to choose from among the five priorities as they are all important. Global competitiveness, democratic legitimacy, powers flowing back to nation states, flexibility, and fairness for the non-eurozone are all crucial priorities and important to this country’s future in the European Union.

Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Well, that was as clear as mud. Can I try again and ask the Foreign Secretary which, of the five abstract principles he referred to, is his top-level policy that would persuade him to vote to stay in the European Union?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Unlike the Labour party we are capable of thinking of more than one thing at a time. There are five themes, and since I have set out five, asking for one is not particularly helpful. We have also delivered more than one. We have already cut the EU budget for the first time, which Labour did not do, and we have protected the rebate in full, which Labour failed to do. We have put a stop to involvement in eurozone bail-outs, which Labour never achieved, and we will go on sticking up for Britain in Europe on more than one subject at a time.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

Should reasserting control of our national borders be a priority? For example, does it make any more sense to have a single European work force than it does to have a single European currency?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I said earlier, I think reforming the concept of free movement on a sensible basis is the right way to think about that. Freedom of movement of workers in the European Union clearly has many benefits, including for British people, but we also know that it is susceptible to being abused. I therefore think the reforms set out last week by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are the right way to proceed.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

As the Foreign Secretary reflects on the answers he has just given, he will be mindful, I am sure, of the European Scrutiny Committee’s conclusion on the justice and home affairs block opt-out that,

“there is little evidence of a genuine and significant repatriation of powers.”

Should the House believe the European Scrutiny Committee or not?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I reflect on the answers I have just given, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall consider them to have been very good answers. European Scrutiny Committee reports should always be taken extremely seriously. The Committee looks at issues in great detail, the Government respond to them in detail and many are debated in this House.