UK ready to opt out of EU justice measures
Coalition rift looms as senior Tories demand that Britain repatriates important powers from EU
A DEEPENING rift is threatening the coalition as the Conservatives move further away from the Liberal Democrats over Europe. Home Secretary Theresa May is preparing to announce a plan to repatriate powers from the EU while Education Secretary Michael Gove is said to believe the UK should leave the EU altogether if we cannot claw back important powers.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that May will tell MPs on Monday that Britain will opt out of over 100 EU measures covering crime, justice and policing before 'cherry picking' some which it will then opt back into.
Senior Tory sources told the paper that the plan is "highly sensitive" politically and likely to anger Liberal Democrats. The announcement comes just days before the Prime Minister travels to Brussels for a summit on EU banking.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, the UK has the right to opt out of laws which it believes not to be in the national interest. May will announce the government intends to do so by 2014, the date of the next EU elections.
Top of the government's list of concerns, says the paper, are the European Arrest Warrant - seen as costly and time-consuming - and plans for a Europe-wide public prosecutor with sweeping powers of arrest.
David Cameron revealed on a recent trip to Brazil that he intended to use the opt-out "before the end of the year". He said: "The key thing then is, well, which of the array of things you’ve come out of do you actually think are good for Britain and you want to co-operate with European partners on? And that’s a discussion we’re having at the moment."
The Telegraph also says that Foreign Secretary William Hague is to announce an "audit" spanning all government departments to establish where Britain could claw back other powers from EU control.
While the plans seem certain to anger Lib Dems, they will play well to the Conservatives' many backbench euro-sceptics - as will the news, reported in the Mail on Sunday, that the Education Secretary has joined their ranks.
Michael Gove, formerly a supporter of the EU, is said to have had a change of heart, prompted partly by the various bits of EU legislation which have been stumbling blocks to his schools reforms.
Without quoting him directly, the paper reports that Gove, one of Cameron's closest allies, believes that if Brussels won’t give back important powers, then Britain should 'go it alone' like Norway or Sweden. He has reportedly told "friends" that if there were a referendum on EU membership today, he would vote to bring the UK out.
Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, a long-time EU critic, told the Mail: "The significance of the change in Michael Gove’s attitude cannot be overstated. No one is closer to David Cameron and Michael clearly now agrees with people like me who have been arguing for years that we should be prepared to leave the EU if they do not agree to a substantial renegotiation of our terms of membership."