By Tim Montgomerie
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The Foreign Secretary William Hague will tell MPs that he is launching a comprehensive audit of how EU membership affects British citizens, businesses and governance. The audit will conclude in 2014 and as part of the Coalition Agreement has been in the pipeline for some time. Every Whitehall department will be involved and many civil society groups. Small businesses and doctors will, for example, be consulted on how they are affected by the working time directive. The Foreign Office is clear that every expert and interested party is invited to contribute. A spokesman told The Independent:
"The point of this is that there are many people out there who have a far better idea than Government of how Europe affects them in their everyday lives – both good things and bad things. For example businesses know which regulations stop them from growing but they also understand the advantages of the single market and how that could be expanded. We are not prejudging the nature of the contributions – this is purely about allowing us to have an informed debate."
The Mail reports that Mr Hague will tell MPs that the audit will provide the context for why so many Britons are disillusioned with the EU. The audit would be an ideal preparation for future renegotiation talks. He will say that Britain has "big choices" to make in the years ahead about the kind of relationship it wants with the EU.
In terms of big choices we had confirmation that those, like me, who'd ultimately like Britain to become a sovereign nation again will have a tough uphill battle to win any In/Out referendum. I recently noted the big difficulties facing Eurosceptic campaigners and a YouGov poll for The Sun found that there was an 8% lead for staying in the EU if David Cameron was able to deliver an unspecified renegotiation that protected British interests.
The Fresh Start Group of Tory MPs will be watching Mr Hague's audit with great interest. They've already started drawing up a list of 100 renegotiation demands, covering regional policy, employment law, energy policy, agriculture and fisheries policy, criminal justice, and defence.