Andrea Leadsom is MP for South Northamptonshire. Follow Andrea on Twitter. Chris Heaton-Harris is Member of Parliament for Daventry. Follow Chris on Twitter. George Eustice is MP Member of Parliament for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle.
Events in Europe guarantee that the way the EU works is going to change significantly over the coming years. This is a golden opportunity for the UK finally to stand up for its own interests. We set up the Fresh Start Project to enable the Government to get the best possible deal for the British people.
Whatever happens to the Eurozone, the UK's relationship with the EU will change in years ahead. The UK must be clear about the future that it wants, and stand up for its national interest. The Fresh Start Project’s aim has been to research and propose a new relationship for the UK with the EU that will better meet the interests and aspirations of the British people.
At this time of existential crisis for the Eurozone countries, EU leaders need to understand that the UK has its own national interest. It is the sole responsibility of the UK government to promote and fight for this interest and we must do so with our European partners. Eurozone members must give serious consideration to the likelihood that non-euro members will need a different relationship with the EU.
The ratchet principle, where small steps towards further integration with no powers ever returned to the Member States, is leading the EU to the 'ever-closer union' envisioned by its forefathers. The UK, however, has never shared this vision.
We believe that a new relationship should protect and develop the UK's access to the single market. Over 40% our UK exports go to the EU, and we export more to Ireland than we do to the BRIC countries combined. Further development of the Single Market, especially in services is likely to create significant opportunities for UK business. In a competitive global economy, however, we do not want our businesses to be hamstrung by EU regulation, and the status quo is in danger of doing just that.
We want to return powers in many areas where policy would be better set by our Parliament. We want a fundamental renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the EU, and are developing a shopping list of powers to be repatriated. From regional policy, employment law, energy policy, agriculture and fisheries policy, criminal justice, and defence, we have developed approximately 100 possible options for change. Some, the UK could do itself, either without recourse to other Member States, or within the current EU system. Others will require negotiated treaty change. The final set, the 'nuclear' options, would involve the UK breaking its treaty obligations and facing possible sanctions.
Some options cut across all policy areas, for example improving scrutiny of EU laws in the Houses of Parliament or tackling the issue of 'gold-plating' of EU legislation, where the UK goes further than other Member States in implementing EU Directives. Others are specific to a policy area.
While we should be ambitious, the UK is unlikely to achieve all of its demands, and we need to prioritise. We need a sensible debate in this country about which powers should be at an EU level, which should be at a National level, and which should be at a local level.
The Prime Minister's reference to a looser union 'with the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc' point to a possible way ahead. The EU is already multi-layered – not all Member States are part of the border-free Schengen area, the euro or defence cooperation, while some non-EU states opt-in to various EU policy areas. This presents the UK with a framework for further development.
There are going to be opportunities in the years ahead. Some are available to us now – the ongoing negotiations over the EU multi-annual framework, the budget agreement that sets out spending for the next seven years, creates an opportunity to negotiate the return of regional policy to the UK. The UK has an option to opt-out of approximately 130 Justice and Home Affairs laws that it can take any time up to 2014. Perhaps most significantly, the proposed fiscal and banking union of the Eurozone is likely to need significant treaty changes to put into practice. When EU Member States ask the UK to approve these changes, it is entirely legitimate for the UK Government to propose some changes of its own.
At a time of crisis, the future belongs to those with a plan. The Fresh Start Project aims to develop the detailed policy thinking to provide the basis for a significant renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU.
Once the plan for reform is complete, then begins a significant renegotiation and this must be followed by a referendum. The British people must be given their say on whether to remain in the EU with a reformed relationship, or whether to leave and make our own way in the world.
We need to set out a clear agenda for reform, negotiate these changes, and then give the UK population the choice of whether they approve of the new relationship.