Andrea Leadsom is the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire. Follow Andrea on Twitter.
As the debate over the UK’s future relationship with the EU rages on, a worrying and false dichotomy is developing. Labour Ministers, and others, are attempting to argue that to talk of reform of Europe is 'pro-European', while to talk of repatriating powers to Member States is 'anti-European'. This entirely misses the point. Europe needs reforming, it is happening anyway, and returning powers to Member States is simply one of many tools of effective reform.
The Fresh Start Project, of which I am a co-founder, outlined in its ‘Manifesto for Change’ the powers that we would like to see repatriated to Member States. These include Social and Employment Law, Regional Policy, Fisheries Policy and Energy Policy. The Manifesto also makes the case for the UK to regain full competence in Policy and Criminal Justice. Importantly, significant reforms, that do not include repatriating powers, are also outlined in Agriculture, in Financial Services, in Immigration, in Defence, and in the EU Budget and institutional framework. The Manifesto also calls for the EU to go further in terms of trade liberalisation, both within and outside of the EU, and for a new Freedom of Information directive to improve transparency and accountability. This is a comprehensive proposal for reform, of which repatriation must inevitable form a part.
Labour's position on EU reform is simply incomprehensible. During the general debate on Europe in the House last week, the Shadow Home Secretary said “reform rather than repatriation is how to achieve the change in Europe we want”. He then went on to endorse the principles as set out by the Prime Minister, saying “The principles are competitiveness, flexibility, that power must be able to flow back to member states and not just away from them, democratic accountability and fairness. As I have said, the Opposition agree with those principles.” So how on earth do they propose to achieve reform but at the same time reject repatriation of powers?
It is not anti-EU to talk of repatriation, of powers flowing back to Member States. The UK is not the only member State considering whether competencies should be repatriated. As the Foreign Secretary said in the same debate last week “It is our responsibility, as one of the leading members of the EU, to press for the reforms that must happen if the EU is to succeed in this century.” The Prime Minister outlined the principles that he wants to guide that reform, and one of them is to repatriate powers.
Let us end this misleading discussion, and focus instead on the real substance: Which powers are best executed at the European level, and which at Member State level. Subsidiarity is a key principle of the EU, and we need to apply it.