Chris Grayling attacks EU jobs 'madness'
A senior cabinet minister has launched an outspoken attack on the “mad” policy agenda of the European Commission, accusing it of putting jobs and growth at risk.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, spoke out over plans to reform data protection laws. Photo: Paul Grover for the Telegraph
By Patrick Hennessy, and Robert Watts
9:00PM BST 08 Jun 2013
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, spoke out over plans to reform data protection laws, which Whitehall estimates will cost businesses hundreds of millions of pounds.
He said the laws were evidence that Brussels’ officials were “not living in the real world”. He described them as examples of the work of people “completely oblivious to the potential consequences of what they are doing”.
Mr Grayling’s intervention is the most strongly-worded attack on Europe yet by such a senior government member.
It will delight the Conservative Party’s Eurosceptic MPs, but inflame tensions with the Liberal Democrats and provoke ire in Brussels. The Justice Secretary spoke out as Tory MPs sought an acceleration of moves towards demanding more powers back from Europe.
Mr Grayling accused the European Commission of producing ever more complex laws and pursuing a “mad” policy agenda that risks leaving British and European companies unable to compete with their global rivals.
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“It’s become obvious that many senior people in Brussels are simply not living in the real world,” Mr Grayling declares in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph.
“They are caught up in a dogma that says the solution to every problem is more European regulation.” Tory MPs have also warned that the commission’s “out-of-touch” approach at a time of high unemployment in the EU risks fuelling the rise of extremist and nationalist political parties across the Continent.
Mr Grayling’s attack is the latest example of a Tory Eurosceptic Cabinet minister flexing his muscles. Last month, in moves that greatly annoyed David Cameron, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said they would vote to leave the EU if an in/out referendum were held now.
The Justice Secretary’s comments follow the latest chapter in a long-running row over moves by Brussels to reform data protection laws for the first time since 1995.
Critics of the plans, including Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, warn that small and medium-sized businesses will be particularly hit because they will have to do much more to monitor, track and manage the data they hold.
A government “impact assessment” of the likely effect of the plan suggested British businesses would face extra costs of about £360million a year. The Dutch government said last week its own assessment was that its country’s employers faced increased bills of £1.2billion, suggesting that the cost to Britain could be much higher.
There is concern that the new rules would affect those who start up businesses from their home, and even people who launch charitable campaigns on social media sites such as Facebook.
Insurance leaders have warned that premiums could increase by up to five per cent as a result of the extra burden on their industry.
Mr Grayling, an influential figure on the Tory Right, said: “This is a prime example of European legislation which will evidently have an impact on the competitiveness of Europe and will impact on employment in Europe at a time when we have really very serious levels of unemployment in the EU.
“They all too often seem completely oblivious to the potential consequences of what they are doing.
“Britain and Europe are in a global race. UK and EU business are fighting through difficult times to be able to keep up employment levels and win business around the world.
“If the EU keeps on trying to produce more and more complex laws that put more and more costs on to business, it’s just going to cost jobs, and that would be mad.
“The people bringing forward proposals at the moment seem to have little idea of the reality of the political and democratic challenges.”
Unemployment in the 27-nation EU averages about 11 per cent, compared with 7.5 per cent in the United States.
In Britain it is 7.8 per cent, but in Greece some 27 per cent of the workforce does not have a job while in Spain the proportion is 26.8 per cent, and youth unemployment is above 50 per cent.
The row over jobs and regulation follows a separate conflict between Britain and Brussels last week over the commission’s attempt to give unemployed immigrants more rights to claim benefits.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, promised to “fight every step of the way” after Brussels said it would sue Britain for requiring EU immigrants to pass an extra test before claiming.
Mr Grayling believes the benefit tourism battle is another “prime example” of how Brussels is “more and more divorced from the political challenges member states face”.
Many Conservatives believe policy in the commission is being dictated by internal politics before a new round of appointments next year.
Chris Heaton-Harris, a co-founder of the Eurosceptic Fresh Start group of MPs, said: “There’s a tendency now in Brussels to focus on more 'European’ measures being put forward because member states and officials are jockeying for position ahead of a new round of commissioner appointments next year.”
Mr Grayling also urges Conservatives to redouble their political fight not to let Labour back into government.
He warns: “We can’t let Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, the political heirs of Gordon Brown, the man who signed the disastrous Lisbon Treaty, back into Downing Street. They would pursue the same strategy of supporting more and more 'Europeanisation’ of our laws.”
As the row intensifies, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that Tory ministers and MPs want to start renegotiating Britain’s terms of EU membership with other nations later this summer — earlier than Mr Cameron planned.
The group of Tories wants London to host a series of international “summits” attended by EU politicians, businessmen and lawyers to discuss how to repatriate powers from Brussels.
MPs calling for the conferences include Greg Barker, the minister of state for energy and climate change, and Sajid Javid, the economic secretary to the Treasury. Others Tory MPs who support the plan include Kwasi Kwarteng, Andrea Leadsom, Margot James and Nadhim Zahawi, all leading backbenchers. Mr Cameron was made aware of the plan last week and has raised no objections to the conferences.
The conference delegates would seek common ground on which types of employment, financial and other EU regulations they will try to change.
Lord Young, the former Cabinet minister who is one of the Prime Minister’s advisers on enterprise, has been proposed as a chairman of the London gathering.
George Freeman, the Norfolk MP leading the call for the conferences, said they would support Mr Cameron’s aim to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe.
Mr Cameron has promised an “in/out” referendum on Britain’s EU membership, after the renegotiation, to be held before the end of 2017. Mr Freeman said: “If we can build coalitions with other countries and their politicians and business leaders in the run-up to the Prime Minister’s renegotiations, it will only strengthen his hand.
“This way it will not be Britain negotiating against 26 other members of the European Union — but perhaps 12 against 14.”
Mr Freeman also said such summits would “shoot Ukip’s fox”, by showing that Conservative politicians were serious about a referendum.
Although those leading the push for the meetings are currently being led by Cameron loyalists, it is expected that Eurosceptics on the Right of the party would also support the plan.
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