U.K. Cabinet Members Reject Tory Demands for New EU Veto Powers

Members of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet rejected a call from some Tory lawmakers to give Parliament new powers to veto European Union laws as the party prepared to debate Britain’s EU membership.

The Conservative lawmakers wrote to Cameron, calling for Parliament to be given authority to block new EU legislation and repeal measures that threaten Britain’s “national interest.” Of 303 Tory lawmakers, 95 signed the letter, the Sunday Telegraph reported. Another six who backed the message chose to remain anonymous, the newspaper said.

The party, under pressure from the increasingly popular U.K. Independence Party, will this week will use a two-day conference to debate a possible exit or renegotiation of its membership terms with the 28-nation group. Foreign Secretary William Hague, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and a spokesman for the prime minister were among those rejecting a veto as unrealistic.

“I’m not convinced my colleagues are right,” Grayling, a so-called euroskeptic, said on the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” show yesterday. “I don’t think it’s realistic to have a situation where one parliament can veto laws across the whole European Union.”

Hague also ruled out the proposals and said a Swiss-style free-trade arrangement with the EU wouldn’t work.

“When you think about it, of course, if national parliaments all around the EU were regularly and unilaterally able to choose which bits of EU law they would apply and which bits they would not, then the European single market would not work,” Hague told Sky News yesterday.

The spokesman for Cameron, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with U.K. rules, used a similar argument.

Possible Referendum

Cameron has said that if he’s re-elected in 2015, he will hold a referendum on the U.K.’s EU position by the end of 2017. The issue may make another coalition with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats harder to form.

“Conservative MPs now need to make up their mind -- if they want a full exit from the EU they should be free to argue it, but they should come clean,” Clegg told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” yesterday. A possible British exit from the EU would be “an act of economic suicide,” he said.

“This is the facile tactic that the europhiles always use,” Conservative lawmaker Bernard Jenkin, who drafted the letter, told BBC radio’s “The World This Weekend” in response to Clegg’s comments. “Then they start talking about 3 million jobs as if the sky is going to fall in if we start asking for some powers back.”

In the lawmakers’ letter, they said any new veto over EU laws would “enable Parliament to disapply EU legislation, where it is in our vital national interests to do so,” according to the Sunday Telegraph. That “would transform the U.K.’s negotiating position in the EU,” they wrote.

Veto Powers

Parliament has no veto over EU laws, and the premier must use the U.K.’s veto if he wants to halt the adoption of proposals such as the bloc’s budget.

Last month a panel of British lawmakers, the European Scrutiny Committee, recommended the introduction of a national parliamentary veto. The Tory lawmakers’ letter to Cameron called on the prime minister to adopt that proposal.

In the letter, they said the veto could be used to deliver changes to the U.K.’s relationship with Europe, including more control over immigration from within the EU.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will use a speech to the conference on the EU in London on Jan. 15 to say Britain should remain in a reformed EU, focusing on the country’s economic relationship with the euro-zone nations.

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