Coffee House

Aide to Europe minister calls for Parliament to beef up its engagement with EU

3 December 2012

Another day, another paper by a Tory MP about Britain’s relationship with Europe. Except the latest paper, by Tobias Ellwood for think tank Open Europe, is actually not so much about what’s wrong with Europe, but about what’s wrong with how our Parliament in Westminster deals with the whole issue.

Ellwood, who is PPS to Europe Minister David Lidington, doesn’t believe Westminster politicians are actually very good at engaging with European Union policymaking, preferring instead a ‘complain-but-don’t-change’ approach. He paints a discomfiting picture of the way MPs relate to Brussels, describing an alienation which leads to ‘little appetite amongst MPs to understand fully how the EU actually works – and how to use Parliamentary power to change it or its policies’. Ellwood even suspects that many MPs don’t understand what power Parliament still holds over EU legislation. His report, which you can read in full here, says:

‘We must get away from reducing every debate on EU legislation to the broken record of wrangling about our fundamental relationship with the EU – important though that debate is – and focus on the policy in question. This rhetoric undermines progress made by the Government in enhancing our influence in Brussels (in Councils, the Commission and European Parliament, through UKREP), and through ad hoc bilateral and minilateral alliance building with other member states.’


He calls for ‘a clear strategy’ allowing government ministers, the civil service, and parliament to ‘contribute towards shaping, tempering or indeed rejecting proposed EU legislation emanating from Brussels’. Some of the key recommendations include:

– A timetable for the government to alert parliament to new EU proposals.
– Dedicated question times on EU issues, in the same way as government departments have their own question times in both Houses of Parliament.
– Powers for MPs to force a debate on the floor of the House of Commons – which could make life interesting on key issues where particularly Conservative backbenchers are opposed to new measures.
– More funding for MPs, select committees and all-party parliamentary groups to visit Brussels and visits to other European capitals.

All these proposals are aimed at improving the scrutiny of EU policy in Westminster, which Ellwood argues would mean ‘we would be better placed to affect EU decision-making upstream and increase our influence abroad’. His boss Lidington might hope that it would also mean fewer surprises when legislation comes into effect, and maybe even a bit less complaining about the day-to-day effects of the European Union.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • WIlliam Blakes Ghost

    To little to late. It might have worked 20 years ago but the damage is done. One only has to look at the complete shambles that Brussels has made of the economic crisis and its obvious that we should distance ourselves as far as we can from those useless dysfunctional idiots even to the point of someohow floating our island into the middle of the Atlantic to get away from them. They are dangerous in their incompetence.

  • barbie

    What planet is this man on? We want less EU not more. Sending MPs on the gravy train of the EU is senseless, they are there to do what we want not themselves. We don’t want more EU we want less so what’s the point? This man seems way off beam, as he not seen the press and reports and forums in newspapers? Many people keep on saying they will vote UKIP precisely because they are the party that has promised they will grant a referendum on ‘in or out’, not like the mealy mouthed lot we have at the moment. Labour is no better. Telling us what we must have instead of us deciding our own destiny. When will MPs of all parties realise they are there from votes from the public, and votes can whither away on the wind once freedom becomes obvious with UKIP. Bring it on, lets challenge these Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems, let beging the fight for freedom. Vote UKIP and lets feel free and begin again to rebuild this country. That’s where my votes go from now on.

  • Charlie the Chump

    Or, we could just leave, save ourselves the trouble with all the EU crap, and concentrate on building relationships with emerging (emerged?) nations which are growing and have a future. Unlike the EU.

  • zizi.papan

    non electet heads of the stade the queen , non electet second chambers lords chambers , where are de democratic in small britain

  • Madame Merle

    “all these proposals are aimed at improving the scrutiny of EU policy in Westminster”

    No, all these proposals are aimed at heading off a total rejection of EU membership, that by keeping “them” talking, a compromise may eventually be had.

    Not me chum, I’ve already seen enough and don’t want to see any further.
    If we get out tomorrow, it won’t be soon enough.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Think tankers eh? There must be rhyming slang thing there somewhere.

    But seriously, debate EU legislature? Don’t they remember there is a place to do that, it is the EU parliament and if it is broken, useless, stupid and non-democractic, well, our parliament voted to hand over the power to question EU legislation to it. We have elections to it every so often, and the good old media and politicians here don’t actually produce a manifesto for what they will do in the EP, or debate it or even talk about it. We use the EP election as a mid-term protest poll with no consquences for us. It is too late to start worrying about the effects of EU rulings when that has been signed away in numerous treaties and summits, each of which operated under the solid precept of ‘ever-closer union’. You can’t mend it, you can accept it all or quit. Article 50 is how we quit. Nobody in the political class ever mentions article 50. They are afraid we will find out about it.

    Cue spectator starting a debate about how we could leave and what actual (rather than scare-mongering) results might be. Shall I wait for Fraser to do that? Or will we just have to put up with the same old rubbish as this post, so devoid of depth and perception.

  • RKing

    Barroso, Van Rumpuy and Ashton???

    Engage with these non-elected non-entities??

    Oh Tobias you cannot be serious!!!

  • TomTom

    “Aid to Europe Minister” would be more appropriate. Can’t we have DfID handle such matters in future ?

  • Matthew Whitehouse

    Unfortunately, there are so many laws coming from Brussels that Parliament does not have the time to allocate for thorough debate.

    • TomTom

      Parliament does not have the right to Debate EU Directives – they go through as Statutory Instruments

      • wanderer

        Shhh. Tobias is still in the romantic bubble of ‘proposals’ and courting and talking. The rest of us know its an abusive marriage and time for divorce. Tobias would like to keep apologising for making Rompuy angry.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    ‘We must get away from reducing every debate on EU legislation to the
    broken record of wrangling about our fundamental relationship with the
    EU – important though that debate is – and focus on the policy in

    In other words, full speed ahead, comrades. Forget debating subservience to the EU komissars, as that’s a done deal. We only need talk about implementing EU directives.

    Oh, and let’s add more funding for MP’s to junket over to Brussels. Never mind that there are existing MPE’s in place to handle EU politics. Too much is never enough, if you’re talking politicians.

    • dalai guevara

      Perhaps you just inadvertently made a case for…sending better ones?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        You mean ones more servile to your komissar comrades?

  • Vulture

    Open Europe is a Vichyite, collaborationist organisation designed to keep this country within the EU straitjacket under the pretence that the monstrosity can be somehow ‘changed’ or ‘reformed’ from within – when the exact opposite is the case.

    They are covert Federasts and no genuine Eurosceptic should touch them with a bargepole. Since no Conservative is a genuine Eurosceptic ( otherwise they wouldn’t be in the Europhile Conservativce party) Ellwood and his ilk can be safely ignored.

    • TomTom

      Never mind Neil O’Brien made it from Open Europe to Policy Xchange to holding hands with Osborne

  • David Lindsay

    We need legislation with five, or possibly six, simple clauses.

    First, the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and its use to repatriate agricultural policy and to restore our historic fishing rights (200 miles, or to the median line) in accordance with international law. Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any
    effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them. Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard. Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament.

    And fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons. Thus, we would no longer subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, neoconservatives such as now run Germany and until lately ran France, people who believe the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or Dutch ultra-Calvinists who will not have women candidates. Soon to be joined by Turkey’s Islamists, secular ultranationalists, and violent Kurdish Marxist separatists.

    Any provision for a straight In-Out referendum on EU membership must be only the sixth clause of what would therefore become this six-clause Bill, the other five clauses of which would come into effect regardless of the outcome of any such referendum, the only referendum worth having.

    Regardless of any such referendum, the way would be opened for realignment with the BRICS countries, realignment within the Commonwealth (of which, I might add, Cyprus and Malta are also members, the Irish Republic ought to be, and Portugal and Belgium are
    historically close enough to us that they probably could be), the implementation of the kind of policies that the sainted Peter Shore advocated while Shadow Chancellor, and the negotiation of bilateral trade agreements around the world. Our foreign and defence policy should also be founded on those same four pillars. If membership of EFTA could be shown to be compatible with all of that, then it ought also to be considered. But not otherwise.

    All of this will of course have to wait for Ed Balls as Chancellor, and for the implementation of the Policy Review headed by Jon Cruddas.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Excellent propositions but don’t hold your breath for any of this from Labour – or anyone really. The days of sensible policies in the interests of the whole country, not just noisy minority pressure groups, axe grinders and vested interests, is long gone.

      • David Lindsay

        If it comes from anywhere, then it will come from there.

        All three of the Labour MPs elected by their colleagues to represent them on the National Executive Committee are no friends of the EU, the same was true of the only other candidate, and one of the winners has voted against every Treaty since the first one.

        One third of the Parliamentary Labour Party voted for it to be chaired by an advocate of outright withdrawal.

        And such full-blown Blairites as remain are going to be smoked out by Leveson. Few, if any, of them will be in the next Parliament.

        • MichtyMe

          Back to the future, Foot, Benn & co and 1983 exit manifesto. Barking.

          • David Lindsay

            The only hope then, and the last hope now.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Oh, yes, I forgot – and the “law enforcement industry” who seem to be in the business of making arguidos of the whole population of the British Isles.

    • MichtyMe

      Forgot Catholics from the list of undesirables.

      • David Lindsay

        I hope that that made more sense to you than it did to anyone else..

        Funnily enough, this very day I have been counting the 100 Catholic seats where the Labour MP would, or could very well, be deselected if he or she voted in favour of same-sex “marriage”. The Tories have nothing remotely comparable.

        • MichtyMe

          Should an atheist consider a calvinist or islamist less “acceptable” ?

          • David Lindsay

            It was perfectly clear from my original comment that I considered Turkish Islamists and adherents to the Dutch tradition of ultra-Calvinism (the C-word comes with huge problems – ask, and I will tell you, leaving you with only yourself to blame) to be equally unacceptable as legislators for the British people.

            But I have no idea what an atheist, as such, should think. I am not one.

            • wanderer

              Pity, i agree with so much you have said. But having to declare my religion before applying for a job or Parliament sounds like Belfast in the 1960s. Was that your intent?

              • David Lindsay

                I am sorry, but I think that you have rather misunderstood me.

                I just don’t want to be legislated for, either by the (ruling) Turkish AKP, or, as is already the case, by the Dutch SGP.

      • MirthaTidville

        ooohh thats easy..go on then add the word muslim …..dare you…

        • David Lindsay

          There are nowhere near that many (potential losses to Respect, in that case). A few. Quite a few. But not a hundred, like the Catholic Labour seats in Scotland, the North and the Midlands.

    • Daniel Maris

      There has to be a one clause bill – to get out of the EU. Otherwise you will have a fiscal mess on your hands as you get fined gazillions by the European courts. The best way to do it would be to publish the bill, have the referendum on the bill and allow 3 or maybe even 5 years for disengagement.

      • David Lindsay

        I’ve dealt with the question of the European Courts.

      • ButcombeMan

        Article 50 gives two years for disengement/negotiation after such a referendum.

  • itdoesntaddup

    The Civil Service and the previous government were extremely skilled in using the Brussels machine. Any time they had a proposal they knew they couldn’t float through Parliament, they simply got Brussels to turn it into a Directive that Parliament simply rubber stamped.

  • LB

    Lets see. I fancy a trip and a slap up lunch and dinner in Brussels. Lets get the tax payer to fund me.

    • Archimedes

      This is exactly why Hague and the PM keep popping over to Libya and such places – basically just an excuse for a holiday and a fancy meal.

      Maybe we should mandate that MPs can only go on official business to places that are crap…true, they’d be in Brussels all the time…

      • HooksLaw

        Wot! The Foreign Secretary actually travels abroad? The bastard!

        • Archimedes

          I’m telling you, this is the next big scandal waiting to break.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here