David Cameron needs to set more ambitious goals in his European Union renegotiations or risk watching the EU tear itself apart as its governing institutions become increasingly detached from the public, a senior Conservative MP has warned.
Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the Treasury select committee, called for an overhaul of the EU to hand greater power back to member states at a time when the prime minister is preparing to step up his negotiations with the EU.
In a Guardian article, Tyrie calls for an end to what he calls the EU’s “legislative ratchet” and says the powers of Brussels should be curbed by a new panel, which should enforce the principle of subsidiarity – that powers should be exercised at the most local level appropriate.
Tyrie, who says his proposals would benefit all EU member states, writes: “If the crisis of legitimacy is not addressed through these or other means, the tensions within the EU could pull it apart. That is why Britain’s renegotiation can and should also be Europe’s opportunity.”
The intervention by Tyrie comes as the prime minister adopts a less equivocal position on the EU, challenging claims by the Vote Leave campaign that Britain could easily negotiate a future outside the EU.
The prime minister is using a visit to the Northern Future Forum in Reykjavik, Iceland, to dismiss the idea that Britain could thrive if it followed in the footsteps of Norway which, along with Iceland, is not an EU member.
Cameron, who will meet his Norwegian counterpart, Erna Solberg, in Reykjavik, says that Oslo enjoys access to the EU’s single market, but is the largest net contributor to the EU’s budget and has no say in the drawing up of rules that it has to obey.
The prime minister will use the summit to outline his EU reform plan to a handful of EU leaders, from Scandinavia and the Baltic states, who will also be in the Icelandic capital.
Cameron has been calling for Britain to be given an opt-out from the EU’s historic commitment to forge an “ever closer union”; protections for non-eurozone countries, such as the UK, to ensure they cannot be outvoted by eurozone countries in the rules on the single market; a four-year ban on EU migrants claiming in-work benefits; and a new red card system that would allow national parliaments to club together to block EU laws.
In his Guardian article, Tyrie indicates that he agrees with much of the prime minister’s thinking.
But he calls for a more ambitious set of goals, including:
- An end to the “legislative ratchet”, in which the EU embarks on ever greater moves towards integration embodied in the commitment to an ever closer union, by greater enforcement of the principle of subsidiarity. This should be achieved by a new process to subject the body of EU law, known as the “acquis communautaire”, to permanent review on what Tyrie calls a “reverse ratchet”.
- Strengthen the power of member states, whose ministers meet in Brussels in the council of ministers, by establishing a new body that would have the power to reject legislation if it fails a test on subsidiarity. It could also review EU law.
The chair of the Treasury select committee said the prime minister should be bolder in his negotiations. He said: “In some respects what I am proposing is more ambitious than the proposals set out by the prime minister and also will help to underpin any achievements in negotiations on the heads in specific areas for the future. That is because there would be continuous reviews of these areas.”
But Tyrie, who served as special adviser to Nigel Lawson in the Treasury in the 1980s, said he disagreed with the former chancellor, who is campaigning for an EU exit on the grounds that Cameron’s demands are too modest.
He said: “I think in a negotiation you make clear what you want, negotiate as best you can and then take stock of what you have obtained at the end of it. You take your decisions on what to do once you’ve seen the full fruit of the negotiations.”
Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, said the prime minister’s planned remarks in Reykjavik showed that he was finally waking up to the need to make a positive case for the EU.
Benn said: “David Cameron is now waking up to the huge risks of stumbling out of the EU rather than posturing to try and keep his backbench MPs happy.
“Labour has consistently said that in an increasingly interconnected world Britain should be leading from inside Europe, not watching from the outside as others take decisions that affect jobs, growth, investment and our security without having a voice at the table.”
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