The UK in the EU

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Picking and choosing EU policies

It has been suggested that the United Kingdom should unilaterally withdraw from some EU policies, such as the Common Fisheries Policy. One way of withdrawing from policies like the Common Fisheries Policy would be to try to persuade the other Member governments to go through all the legal processes needed to give the UK an opt-out. Every other Member State would have to agree and they would be very unlikely to do so. Most other member Governments would resist a fisheries opt-out for the UK. It would be contrary to the practical interests of several important ones. And all would fear the consequences. If fisheries, why not the CAP? How could the EU work if any member state could withdraw from any policy it had come to dislike? The EU is founded on the basis of Member States agreeing to common policies in a range of fields; if a Member State could pick and choose which policies to adopt, then the EU would be fundamentally undermined.

Withdrawing unilaterally from a particular EU policy or refusing to apply a directive would create major, and probably insuperable, legal problems as well as other political and economic problems. The 1972 European Communities Act is the legal basis for the application of EU law within the United Kingdom. As long as that Act remains in its present form, the British courts are legally bound to enforce EU law. The British government would know that, if the UK went ahead and acted unilaterally in this way, our courts would have no option but to declare this illegal under the 1972 Act. So the Government would have the choice between seeking some face-saving “compromise” or taking the much more drastic action of repealing all or part of the European Communities Act 1972. To do this would be the equivalent of starting to leave the European Union.

A European Union that has binding rules on its members and a system for enforcing those rules is very much in Britain’s interests. If nations could pick and choose which parts of EU law they obeyed, British businesses could, for example, find themselves frozen out of certain European markets, or facing unfair competition from state subsidised rivals or be forced to comply with different rules in different Member States. As the beef ban demonstrated, a rule-based EU gives us more influence. We were able to overturn the French beef ban through the European Court of Justice – admittedly it took too long - but we had no similar means to overturn the US beef ban. Allowing nations to pick and choose which EU rules they obeyed would be a recipe for anarchy and would be damaging to Britain.

December 2005

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