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Euroskeptics Set to Unveil List of Reforms

Helen Warrell and George Parker
Tuesday, 10 Jul 2012 | 2:26 AM ET

Conservative euroskeptics MPs are to unveil a lengthy shopping list of proposed reforms to the UK’s relationship with the EU as part of an attempt to return powers from Brussels.

St George's Flag & Houses of Parliament
Peter Adams | Photodisc | Getty Images
St George's Flag & Houses of Parliament

The changes—laid out in a paper by the “Fresh Start” group of Tories—include reducing the overall size of the EU budget, overhauling the Common Agricultural Policyto which the UK contributes about 1 billion pounds ($1.55 billion) a year, and repatriating structural funds.

The document, to be unveiled on Tuesday, also urges the government to prepare for a block opt-out of 130 EU crime and policing measures that are coming up for renegotiation in 2014.

The paper argues that the euro zone crisis has provided the impetus for reform. “Irrespective of what happens to the euro zone project, the UK must stake out an alternative and sustainable future relationship with its EU partners,” the report reads. “It is no longer possible to paper over Europe’s differences with one-size-fits-all legislation or institutions.”

Throughout his premiership David Cameron has battled criticism from backbench Euroskeptics, who claim he has given in to the Liberal Democrats’ enthusiasm for the European project. The prime minister gained only a brief reprieve last year when he vetoed proposed treaty changes leading to greater EU integration. However, many of the party’s MPs are still calling for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the union and have demanded the government takes action to strengthen Westminster’s autonomy from Brussels.

George Eustice, one of the Fresh Start group’s leaders, said he wanted to banish the idea that it would be impossible to renegotiate relations with the EU in the short term and said the party leadership was keen to hear suggestions on where they should focus their efforts.

“They are definitely in the market for proposals that we could take to the EU in future negotiations,” Mr. Eustice said. “I think they are also interested in ideas we could bring into the next Conservative manifesto.”

William Hague, the foreign secretary, is expected this summer to launch a civil service-led audit of EU powers and how they operate in Britain, an exercise that may mirror some of the work done by Fresh Start.

Mr. Hague will attend the launch of the group’s paper. “The quality of work is generally high but it’s not an [indication] of government or Conservative partypolicy,” a Hague aide said on Monday. “This is a menu of options and it is looking to the future. There are a lot of interesting ideas in it. Everyone should read the paper and think about it.”

Andrea Leadsom, another MP involved in the Fresh Start project, said there should be “no more” of Britain’s traditional reserve. “We must get the best deal for Britain and not worry about others’ feelings,” she said.

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