Melanie Phillips

2 August 2010

The EU and the Tories' broken promises

Published in: Daily Mail

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When the Tories fought the general election, they promised they would yield no more power to the European Union, and that they would even seek to regain from the EU some of the powers that Britain had already lost.

These pledges were designed to take the sting out of the fact that they were not, after all, going to offer a referendum on the European constitution.

Three months on, it looks increasingly as if none of their promises to safeguard British power is going to be kept. Indeed, the coalition Government even seems to be going in precisely the opposite direction.

Last week, Home Secretary Theresa May told the Commons that Britain had decided to opt into the controversial European Investigation Order.

According to critics, this will mean that prosecutors from any EU country will be granted unprecedented and intrusive powers over people in Britain.

They would be able to bug the phone calls of British citizens, monitor their bank accounts and gain access to their DNA if they suspected them of committing a crime in those countries -- however trivial the offence, and even if it were not a crime in the UK.

Britain's over-stretched police would not only be almost powerless to prevent such personal details from being handed over, but they could even be ordered to carry out investigations or surveillance for their EU counterparts.

Such powers would be an outright onslaught on British liberties and independence. Yet Mrs May -- cheered on by Labour MPs, who fell over themselves to welcome her announcement -- airily swatted away such concerns.

Far from the police being over-burdened or civil liberties being lost, she trilled, the new order would actually reduce bureaucracy by merely codifying and simplifying processes that already exist.

Ring any bells? As was pointed out by concerned MPs, precisely the same bogus assurances were made during the passage of the Lisbon constitutional treaty, whose fundamental destruction of British sovereignty was repeatedly described as just a 'practical' or 'tidying-up' measure.

Mrs May claimed all worries about the new European order would be addressed. She would seek to ensure a proportionality test to prevent the British police from being obliged to provide information in relation to trivial offences.

And foreign authorities would not be allowed to instruct British police officers on what operations to conduct, nor allow foreign officers to operate in the UK with law-enforcement powers.

But with the history of the EU and the relentless salami-slicing of British sovereignty, does anyone believe these proposed safeguards will amount to anything?

As Mrs May herself admitted, the Government merely intends to negotiate such safeguards with the EU. There is no guarantee that it will succeed.

Indeed, as the final text will be determined by qualified majority vote, it is all too likely that it will not. And once we have opted in, if we find the order does work against British interests, there will be absolutely nothing we can do about it.

The key point is this: the Government could have decided to have nothing to do with this order. Instead, it chose to opt in. So it appears that, far from regaining powers from the EU, this Government is actually choosing to give yet more of them away.

Accused in the Commons of betraying the Tories' promise to protect British sovereignty, Mrs May took refuge in positively Orwellian language. The new power, she said, entailed no loss of sovereignty. It would merely improve European co-operation to make it easier for Britain to fight crime.

Such a seamless progression from passionately opposing European integration to adopting the cynical euphemisms employed by the previous Labour government to conceal its encroachment makes one despair that the Tories will do anything at all to regain any of Britain's powers to govern itself.

The loss of these powers is proving positively dangerous not just to British interests but to British lives.

A year after the EU directive limiting workers to a 48-hour week was applied to the NHS, 80 per cent of hospital consultants polled by the Royal College of Surgeons now say the quality of care has already been damaged by the change.

Senior doctors say trainee surgeons are now spending so little time in operating theatres that they lack the skills required to perform safely when they became consultants.

Even worse, they say, the new rules are creating a generation of 'clock-watchers' -- doctors with a 'lazy work ethic' who no longer feel personal responsibility for their patients, who as a result are being put at risk by being repeatedly 'handed' from one shift to the next.

One surgeon, who works a regular 80 to 100-hour week with no pay for the extra hours because he says there is no alternative if his patients are to be cared for safely, reports that during the middle of one operation he was left to struggle to complete it alone after the newly appointed trainee assisting him said he had to go home because he had reached the limit of his rostered hours.

Such developments are almost beyond belief. It is hard to exaggerate the degree of recklessness and stupidity behind applying such a directive to the medical profession.

Only the most bone-headedly blinkered bureaucratic mind -- one which is entirely divorced from reality -- can fail to grasp the inevitable risk to patients inherent in limiting doctors' hours.

That mindset is unfortunately the driving force of what is now an entire bureaucratic quasi-state called the EU -- without whose directive British doctors' training would not now be going down the drain.

It is simply intolerable that this potentially lethal destruction of medical standards is being enforced by an authority which has superseded the ability of the British Government to decide how this country's doctors should be trained.

The president of the Royal College of Surgeons, John Black, has described this situation as 'acutely urgent' and implored the Government to take immediate action to address the concerns -- having pledged in its coalition agreement that it would work to limit the application of the EU's rules in the UK.

One has to ask, however, what price that pledge now. The Tories are in coalition with the Lib Dems, who are fanatical European integrationists.

After the Home Secretary's statement on the European Investigation Order, the sole Lib Dem MP who spoke welcomed it and expressed the pious hope that it would strengthen privacy and human rights safeguards. So much for the party of civil liberty.

But even if the Tories had been in government by themselves, it is doubtful they would have behaved any differently. For the plain truth is that Britain cannot hope to regain any of its powers from the EU unless it makes clear that if it doesn't get what it wants, it will leave.

That is a declaration the Cameroons would never make. And so all their pledges to hold the line for British sovereignty were always meaningless.

The consequence of such pusillanimity is that, despite their strutting ambitions, they are, in fact, losing power as remorselessly as a car with a leaky petrol tank. In time, the British Government will have no greater power than Westminster regional council in the Republic of Euroland.

David Cameron says he will fight to get Turkey into the EU. Wouldn't it be preferable if he tried instead to get Britain out?

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie