The subject came up again in the House of Lords during a debate on December 6 that followed Lord Grenfell's Starred Question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have agreed a list of powers to be repatriated from the European Union, and, if so, when they expect to launch negotiations with the United Kingdom's European partners.Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a committed europhiliac, responded in a suitably vague fashion:
My Lords, the Government are committed under the coalition agreement to examining the balance of competences between Britain and the EU. We have made no commitment to a particular outcome of this review. Work on the review has begun and is in its early stages.Lord Grenfell followed up in a somewhat breathless fashion:
My Lords, I am relieved to read that the Prime Minister has recognised that Friday's negotiations on a fiscal compact are not the occasion to try to repatriate any powers. That is good news, and it should at least save the Prime Minister from having another ASBO slapped on him by the President of France. The Prime Minister says that he wants to be constructive at these negotiations but that he will have some modest demands to make. Does the Minister agree that the chance to participate constructively in the negotiations being held among the 27 does depend on them being among the 27, because that gives him a seat and a voice, whereas if negotiations were confined to the 17 eurozone members he would have neither? If the Prime Minister arrives in Brussels with a list of concessions which he wants granted as a price for his co-operation, there is a serious risk that the 17, tired of Britain's repeated requests for special treatment, will simply close the door on the 10 outsiders and negotiate without them. What influence will he then have on the outcome?Since HMG has not the slightest intention of repatriating powers there really is not the slightest need to rejoice in the fact that they will not be using this occasion to do so. Then again, if this is not a good time to start those famous repatriations and renegotiations, when is?
After a certain amount of the same we get a reasonable question from Lord Hannay of Chiswick:
My Lords, what would the Government's response be if, in the intergovernmental conference about to meet, a member state other than Britain were to introduce a proposal for the repatriation of some portion of the single market?To which the response is:
My Lords, I am happy to say that that is extremely unlikely. We are some way off an intergovernmental conference. The German Government believe that we can have a very short IGC next March and hope that ratification of limited treaty change can then take place by the end of 2012. The position of Her Majesty's Government is that treaty change is not necessary, as we argued when ratifying the Lisbon treaty and again on the EU Bill. The Lisbon treaty has an enormous amount of headroom under which powers can be taken, and we think advantage should be taken of that, rather than getting into the messy, unavoidably uncertain and long process of treaty change.Hmm. That is not quite the way this whole process has been presented to the media.
After a lot of other smug assertions about how wonderfully well everything would go if only those nasty eurosceptics would go away and
My Lords, given the requirement for unanimity among 27 nation states before a single comma can be retrieved from the treaties of Rome, is not all talk of repatriation a convenient red herring?Oh pshaw!
No. There is constant negotiation. The working time directive is currently under review, as the noble Lord will be aware. Sixteen member states, including Britain, currently have opt-outs. Twenty-three member states, not including Britain, are currently under contravention for not implementing the working time directive. There is therefore room for reconsideration.That's it then?