UK Government embarassing U-turn over European arrest warrant

Labour Party

It was an embarrassing climb down for the Home Secretary, Theresa May, yesterday who was forced to agree that Britain should remain a participant in the European arrest warrant scheme.

She had made promises to change British law so that the European arrest warrant could not be used to extradite UK nationals over what she said were ‘trivial or dubious charges.’

But she confirmed in a statement to Parliament, to the heckling of some of her own back bench euro sceptic MPS, that the fast track arrest warrant was among 35 EU criminal justice measures the government was seeking to retain.

Another embarrassing U-turn for the government and yet again the coalition government failed to understand the political significance of making such a move had it pursued it further. It also illustrated how the coalition is prepared to put politics above the interests of the country.

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, responded by saying many of the measures May “is seeking permanently to opt out of have been replaced already, did not operate anymore or had never been used, while others were just agreements to cooperate.”

If this is May’s way to seek repatriation of powers then it couldn’t be a worse strategy mainly, but not only, because this specific piece of legislation a serious policy on crime and justice. This is an important power and is not a game- something Yvette Cooper reiterated when responding to May’s announcement.

I’ve said it before and I repeat it here, some significant crimes have been resolved swiftly in the United Kingdom as a result of the European arrest warrant. For example, we were able to catch and bring to justice the 7/7 terrorists as a result of this; an indication alone of how useful it is and therefore how important it is to protect.

Sky’s knife-edge poll shows people want a reformed EU but repatriation of powers still remains impossible

Labour Party

Fifty-one per cent would vote to leave the European Union while 49 per cent prefer the status quo. Today’s poll broadcast by Sky News must give us all pause for thought.

 That being said, the results of the survey come with a significant health warning from Survation, the company who carried out the work, who state:

“A great deal of this opinion, however, is subject to change. 61% of ‘OUT’ voters would reconsider if certain key policy areas were renegotiated for the UK. Meanwhile 80% of current ‘IN’ voters would consider leaving if certain aspects of potential future EU integration were forced on the UK, being made to join the Euro chief among them.”

“Part of the uncertainty almost certainly stems from a lack of awareness of the EU and what exactly it means for the UK. Only 17% and 13% of respondents recognised a picture of the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy respectively, compared to 71% who recognised German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Clearly awareness of the EU’s institutions is very low in the UK, when compared with awareness of the politics of other prominent European countries.”

“Similarly only 37% of respondents correctly guessed from 6 options that there were 27 countries in the EU, which suggests only around 25%, actually knew the correct response rather than guessing. 12% of respondents thought that there were as many as 36 countries in the EU. Meanwhile, of people who were not sure how they would vote in a referendum, the most common reason given was that they were “not sure what an ‘out’ vote would actually mean for the UK in terms of our new relationship with Europe”.

The EU debate more than almost anything else I have encountered over many years of political activism suffers from lack of clarity and lack of knowledge. For instance, voters do not really know what powers David Cameron seeks to repatriate. Even the debate on the 130 odd justice and home affairs measures which led the headlines not so long ago seems to have now disappeared into the long grass, possibly a deliberate ploy by Home Secretary Theresa May.

David Cameron is tellingly very quiet on other repatriation possibilities, mainly because they are just that – possibilities. As regular readers of this blog will know, I have long believed that unilateral repatriation is a complete non-starter. Why on earth would the 26 other EU member states agree to something demanded by only one of their number? 26:1 seems to me improbably long odds.

However, we should not rule out meaningful reform of the EU and its institutions. Reform from the inside is the only way Britain can go, though I concede that progress is often painfully slow. However, change does happen. The Common Fisheries Policy has been amended to do away with the ludicrous demand that certain fish be discarded and thrown back into the sea. As far as the European Parliament is concerned, we now have powers to co-legislate along with the EU member states. There is a long list of treaties from Maastrich to Lisbon which have amended the way the EU operates. This is how reform will happen, not by David Cameron having a hissy fit and taking his bat home, and we need to be there to protect our national interest.

The Labour Party is committed to a hard headed and patriotic case for EU reform. First out of the starting blocks will be a call for restraint and reform of the EU budget together with measures to stimulate growth and jobs across the continent. To this end Labour will look for agreement to appoint an EU Commissioner for Growth.

Since immigration is the number one public concern regarding the European Union, Labour will put in train talks to reform the transitional arrangements setting the terms for immigration from the new member states while at the same time seeking to reform the payment of family related benefits to EU migrants. There will also be a demand that the EU collect data on EU migration flows.

And Labour will also work to abolish the Strasbourg circus, whereby MEPs traipse to the Alsatian capital twelve times a year amid much expense and disruption.

The Survation survey shows an extremely low level of knowledge about the EU across the population of the United Kingdom. I passionately believe we as a nation need to address this. Ignorance is never blissful and, whatever your point of view on the EU, I do not believe anyone can defend the current situation whereby people don’t have the tools to actually know what is happening in an institution this country has belonged to for 40 years.

Repatriation of powers really is smoke and mirrors

Labour Party

France and Germany have refused to participate in Prime Minister David Cameron’s much-vaunted examination of whether some EU powers should be returned to member states.

Reported in the Financial Times on 2 April, this extremely significant development has unfortunately received little attention in the British media. Since the story broke before the Thatcher demise, there was no excuse for ignoring such important news.

David Cameron’s flagship policy is now in tatters, as predicted many times on this blog. I first mentioned the impossibility of repatriation of powers as long ago as March 2010, before Cameron achieved the highest office. It was blindingly obvious to those of us engaged in European politics that there would never be the agreement required from the 26 other EU member states for repatriation to happen.

According to the FT, Paris and Berlin consulted with one another before concluding that the exercise known as the “balance of competences” was about serving Britain’s domestic political interests and not an EU issue as such. The two countries took this view even though the British government sent letters to each of the 26 other EU countries explaining the approach would be even-handed.

Cameron, of course, wants to use the results of the balance of competences review to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union. Now that France and Germany have refused to participate in Cameron’s little scheme, renegotiation looks less and less likely. The Franco-German axis seems to be at one on this. The previous position where Hollande was against what he called “cherry picking” , (ie the UK keeping what it wanted such as the single market while opting out of European social legislation) while Merkel seemed to be more sympathetic to the UK position has obviously hardened into that of opposition to Cameron’s impossible policy.

Indeed, the FT was quite clear that most EU governments have indicated extreme reluctance to re-open the EU treaties. It is, moreover, unclear whether Cameron has enough political sympathy among his EU partners to engineer a one-off deal for Britain.

So it’s all ending in tears for Cameron and his side-kick William Hague. Fortunately for Mr Cameron and the Con-Dem government the end of one of the major promises in the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 general election has gone virtually unnoticed. Shame on all those who seek to cover up Tory incompetence and their lack of understanding on EU and international matters.

Clegg’s instincts are right but his bid to assert himself just looks desperate

Labour Party

Repatriation of powers from the European Union to Britain remains a thorn in David Cameron’s side. The movement for “Europe Light” initially dreamt up, I believe, by William Hague back in the mists of time, is really causing the Prime Minister a lot of problems, Nick Clegg being the latest.

The issue is creating difficulty principally because it is a total non-starter. The EU treaties, to which successive British governments have given their assent, are designed to be treaties, international agreements to which all parties adhere. This is an age-old idea universally recognised in more or less its present form for at least 2000 years. Once you have decided to be in, any changes require the agreement of all parties. Unilateral tinkering with the EU by the UK on its own is quite simply not on the agenda. Whatever Britain wants will have to be agreed by the other 26 member states.

Nick Clegg has now finally joined the growing ranks of those who see sense. It is just sad that it took him so long given his background in the EU as both an MEP and as a member of staff in the cabinet of a European Commissioner. Clegg seems to be ruling out trying to use the forthcoming revision of the Lisbon Treaty to make an attempt to repatriate powers, maybe because he is catching up with the idea that other EU member states may just tell Britain to get real. No-one wants to be associated with failure, least of all a struggling leader of Britain’s third political party on the verge of annihilation.

Repatriation of powers is pure smoke and mirrors as you read here a long time ago. Theresa May’s cack-handed approach to taking back 130 justice and home affairs powers with a view to renegotiating opting back into some of them later bears all the hall marks of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. It would be laughably pathetic if it weren’t so serious.

Meanwhile poor Nick Clegg is trying to inject some common sense into the coalition, now driven by a clique of feral Tories to whom being anti-EU with withdrawal top of the agenda is a raw and terrifying religion. These are the people who secured the leadership of the Conservative Party for David Cameron, and it’s now pay back time.

It is deeply tragic that the future of our country is in the hands of very small bunch of nutters. There are, of course, things in the EU which need change and reform – it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. However, it’s the same with any body politic wherever it may be. No-one seriously thinks Britain is all sweetness and light and that everything is perfect.

If Clegg were stronger and the Liberal-Democrats less excited by power, the relationship with the EU could well be the issue that tears the coalition apart. Yet that’s not the way it’s going. The coalition is much more likely to be destroyed by a visceral and seemingly unresolvable conflict between the Tory Eurosceptic zealots and the forces of government both in the UK and the EU.

David Cameron’s attempt to have it all ways on the EU is doomed to fail

Labour Party

As David Cameron makes yet more noise about Britain’s membership of the EU, you may wonder why he chose to use the word “consent”, a somewhat woolly concept, rather than going all guns blazing for a referendum.

One answer is that Cameron is increasingly finding himself between a rock and a hard place. As the FT’s Janan Ganesh puts it: “By hinting at a repatriation of powers, he (Cameron) raises eurosceptic hopes that are almost impossible to meet. Few diplomats expect to achieve more than cosmetic changes to the terms of British membership, and even those tweaks will take place largely in non-economic areas such as justice.”

One of the few British commentators to even begin to understand the EU, Ganesh is spot on with this analysis. Continuing in the same vein, he rightly says: “If such negotiations (on repatriating powers) ever transpire, the EU is likely to want to give Mr Cameron enough to have a fighting chance of winning a referendum to stay in the club. But the immemorial desire of most eurosceptics is nothing less than to belong to the single market while being excused much of the burden of European regulation. It is no more in the interests of the rest of the EU to grant this privilege now than it was in the past.”

An opt out on some justice and home affairs matters is all Cameron is ever going to get out of the EU, and even that is very uncertain. I, for one, have never understood why the majority of UK political commentators give house room to the concept of repatriation of powers from the EU to the UK. As the excellent Mr Ganesh has confirmed, except in a few specific, non-economic areas, it is impossibility.

Cameron is promising smoke and mirrors to appease the Tory right-wing and try and see off the threat to the Tories from UKIP. He is, however, deceiving the British people. This is, of course, dishonest. It’s also very stupid.

Janan Ganesh makes another strong point: “If the content of any new settlement will upset the right, the process of winning consent for it is also tricky. The Tory manifesto for the next election is increasingly likely to include a promise to hold a referendum on the new arrangements once they are secured. This should pacify eurosceptics for a while and prevent UKIP from encroaching too far into the Tory vote in 2015. But it will also ensure that the first couple of years of the next parliament will be dominated by Europe. The Conservatives could easily split as MPs decide that the deal struck by Mr Cameron is not worth campaigning for. Then, if the referendum is lost, it is hard to imagine the government surviving.”

Even supposing David Cameron is Prime Minister after 2015, and I most definitely do not believe that will be the case, it’s very difficult to see how his chosen policy on the European Union can be even modestly successful. The Tory eurosceptics are stridently demanding more than is even remotely realistic. Moreover, they scent blood and will not go away. Meanwhile David Cameron, one individual Prime Minister in a European Union of 27 member states, quite simply cannot give the sceptics what they want. To cap it all the British people are being promised a referendum on something which will probably never happen.

The Tory Fresh Start Group is based on smoke and mirrors

Labour Party

Ever moreTories in Westminster are becoming deeply confused about the EU. Surely one of the most confused is back-bencher Andrea Leadsom, leading light of the Fresh Start Group of 100 or so Tory MPs.

The interestingly named Fresh Start Group brings together equally confused Tory back-benchers, many of whom have for quite a while now been working out what this country should seek from a renegotiation of British EU membership. What would agricultural policy, regional policy, social policy and the rest look like, if the Conservative euro-reformers had their way?

What indeed? But the key question here is not what these policies would look like but rather “if the Conservative euro-reformers had their way”.The salient and irrefutable point is that these “euro-reformers” quite simply cannot deliver. Changes to any EU treaty need agreement from all 27 member states. The confused Tory MPs have undeniably worked hard on what used to be called “repatriation of powers”. Sadly for them their labour amounts to nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The British government quite simply does not have control over the EU in the way the confused Tories are claiming.

At the risk of peddling sour grapes, I havehad the experience on more occasions than I care to remember of being made cruelly aware of the lack of understanding of the European Union by British elected representatives. The BBC reported that Mrs Leadsom has taken a swipe at Britain’s representatives in Europe, both officials and elected MEPs, for “going native” – and even speaking with a “weird half French, half German accent”. Rather than insulting her colleagues, Mrs Leadsom would do better to get to grips with the EU if she intends to pontificate on UK membership.

There were, of course, those in the recent debate in Westminster Hall led by Mrs Leadsom who agreed with my contention that Britain would not get what it wanted. Most of them were, inevitably, arch-Eurosceptics such as veteran Maastricht rebel Bill Cash, who wish to leave the European Union. This line is at least honest, if misguided.

The confused Tories who believe EU reform will magically happen because the UK wants it, seem to think the current crisis gives Britain a lot of leverage. Moreover, since the EU needs Britain more than Britain needed the EU, there is plenty of scope for negotiation. In your dreams is all I have to say.

There was, however, some useful tactical advice during the Leadsom debate from the Conservative former cabinet minister, Peter Lilley, who suggested Britain should approach rolling back EU powers in the same way as the European Commission approached extending them – with salami tactics. But he also thought the key battle would be to overturn the acquis, the long-standing doctrine that once the EU acquired competence over a policy area, it was never relinquished. If Britain could establish a precedent for clawing back powers, that would enable more powers to be repatriated in future.

At least in Peter Lilley there seems to be one less confused Conservative. Yet even he does not address the issue that the 26 other EU member states do not want to overturn the acquis which seem to work well for everyone except the UK unfer the current government.

In the event, there were some interesting ideas for reforming the way the Westminster Parliament deals with EU issues – a specialised EU question time and far stronger scrutiny of European directives were two very good proposals. More involvement in EU matters by British MPs and members of the House of Lords is an excellent idea to be welcomed whichever political party introduces it.

Cameron does a U turn and abandons Repatriation of Powers

Labour Party

David Cameron is preparing to forgo the chance of winning back powers from Brussels.

Unlike his heroine, “the lady’s not for turning” Thatcher, David Cameron appears to have caved in at the first available opportunity.

According to the Times, Cameron is ditching his flagship repatriation of powers policy in order to end the uncertainties about the future of the Eurozone as quickly as possible.

Two days after the Office for Budget Responsibility warned that the Eurozone crisis could drag Britain into recession, Mr Cameron has decided to use the health of the British economy as the ultimate excuse for abandoning getting powers back from the EU.

European Union leaders have to agree at a Brussels summit next week whether new rules for the Eurozone designed to prevent another debt crisis require all 27 members to sign a new treaty, or can be agreed simply by the 17 members of the single currency.

British officials have, the Times reports, suggested that Mr Cameron would be happy to allow the 17 Eurozone countries to agree new rules as long as they did not involve changing the powers of the European Court of Justice or the European Commission.

Since there is no need whatsoever to change the rules relating to the European Court of Justice or the European Commission in order to resolve the problems of the Eurozone, this particular statement looks like a load of flannel designed to obscure Cameron’s abject failure.

In any event, I always thought the Tories disliked the European Court of Justice and saw this as one of their targets for repatriation of powers. As if this were not enough, this is the first time to my knowledge the European Commission has been in the frame. Changing the structure and working of the Commission, one of the three institutions, along with the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, which form the governance of the European Union, is a huge matter. So huge that it hasn’t until now been on Cameron’s repatriation of powers agenda, probably due to the fact that even Eurosceptic Tories are not so blinded by their hatred of all things EU that they believe they can reform the European Commission just like that.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling, who seems to be Cameron’s whipping boy of the moment, is on record as saying , “I would hope that all of this could get resolved quite quickly,” when asked if British demands that EU powers be repatriated to London in return for treaty change would drag out the process of negotiating the changes.

I am tempted to ask whether this is the end of the repatriation of powers saga, an unachievable policy which appears to have bitten the dust. If there is to be a resurgence of Tory backbench Euroscepticism with demands to return powers from Brussels, Cameron will either have to find some other excuse the Eurosceptics may just swallow or come clean and admit he can’t deliver.

My money is on the former, though I have to say I can’t readily think of any plausible excuse. Somehow I can’t see Cameron owning up to the fact that repatriation of powers is a total fantasy; that would involve a degree of honesty we have not yet seen from our Prime Minister.

Repatriation of powers is looking increasingly less likely

Labour Party

According to the Daily Mail, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy are looking at striking separate arrangements outside the EU Lisbon Treaty to bring about tighter budgetary control in the Eurozone countries. 

It now appears that Germany’s original idea to secure agreement on the future of the Euro from all 27 EU member states is biting the dust. The aim of securing a limited change to the Lisbon Treaty by the end of 2012, making it possible to impose much tighter budget controls over the 17 countries in the Eurozone, is quite simply going nowhere. It is proving impossible to get agreement from all the 27 members of the EU for such a course of action.

An agreement among the 17 Eurozone countries, or even the eight most significant, would well and truly emphasise Britain’s isolation.

It would also put paid to the Tories’ much-vaunted idea that powers from the European Union can be repatriated to Britain. The very basis of such a return of powers was to be an EU treaty change when Cameron would, so the fantasy goes, insist on Britain gaining more control over social and employment policy in return for agreeing changes to the treaty. However, there was one major flaw to this policy, now firmly consigned to cloud cuckoo land, in that there had to be a treaty. No treaty, no go.

Meanwhile our Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is having a rude awakening to the realities of European and global inter-dependence. The Daily Mail quote him on the Eurozone crisis: “It’s having a hugely chilling effect on the British economy at the moment……one in seven pounds we export goes to Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece –  just those countries.”

Precisely Mr Osborne. That’s exactly why the UK should be at the table and not flitting about in the twilight we currently inhabit, watching others taking massive decisions which will hugely affect our future.

The opportunity to repatriate powers may come sooner rather than later

Labour Party

During the European Parliament plenary session this past week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned that future treaty changes would be needed to strengthen integration, despite opposition from some EU member states, including Britain.

Mr Barroso has previously put forward the view that the Eurozone faces a “systemic crisis” that needs deeper integration to resolve. He told the European Parliament: “Without increased integration, convergence and discipline, we will not be able to sustain a common currency”.

As a concession to the non-Euro members, the Commission President said deeper fiscal integration between Eurozone members should not put the 10 member states not in the single currency at a disadvantage. “Reinforcing the governance of the Euro is also reinforcing our union” were his exact words. However, it soon became clear that he was not really talking about the UK. Referring to the EU countries not in the Eurozone, Mr Barosso said: “Most of them, almost all of them, have a vocation to join the euro.” In other words, I am sympathetic to Eastern Europe but not the other three countries that are not in the Euro -Britain, Sweden and Denmark.

 Mr Barosso made it clear that once Eurozone integration was achieved, it would be natural for the Eurozone countries to issue debt together – what he called “stability bonds”, what the markets call Eurobonds. He told the European Parliament that “Such bonds could, if well designed, strengthen financial stability and fiscal discipline in the euro area.”

However, in order to achieve this he will have to overcome Mrs Merkel. Germany, which has the lowest financing costs in the Eurozone, fiercely opposes any issuing of joint debt. Nevertheless, the European Commission will present a proposal on such bonds later this month.

Watch this space!

Labour MEPs will also be watching David Cameron very closely. Assuming that the proposed treaty change will involve all 27 member states and not just those in the single currency, will the Prime Minister leap on it to get powers back to the UK or will he make excuses and bottle out? If he is as good as his word and seeks to implement his much vaunted repatriation of powers, will he manage to do it or will he fall flat on his face?

As someone once said, we live in interesting times.