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By Stephen Gardner. David Cameron's promise, should he be re-elected, to renegotiate Britain's EU membership before putting it to the vote in 2017 is looking increasingly far-fetched.


First, the 27 other EU countries have no particular interest in negotiating with a prime minister who is now marginalised in Brussels. European Council president Donald Tusk recently called Cameron's plan “mission impossible”.

But even if Cameron gets everyone around the table, what exactly will be the substance of the negotiation? During 2013-2014, the government carried out a major review of the “balance of competences” between the UK and the EU that was supposed to provide a baseline analysis of what needs to be fixed. The review was completed in December 2014.

Unfortunately for the government, the outcome was that the balance of competences is fairly well, er, balanced. There are some areas that need tidying up, such as giving benefits to workers from other EU countries, but in general, where the EU legislates, the UK would legislate anyway, and Britain has the right opt-outs in key areas. The review found little need for a major renegotiation.

The House of Lords EU Committee has now completed a review of the review that confirms that the government is burying the balance of competences exercise. William Hague previously promised that the review would lead to informed debate about Britain's EU membership, but the government has reneged on a promise to produce an overall summary of the review's separate reports. When quizzed about this by the committee, minister for Europe David Lidington said that each report has its own summary and the interested public could read those – all 32 of them.

The committee also found that the government has played down the cost of the review. The official figure is £1.46 million, but the committee estimated the real cost at £5 million. The government has obfuscated the cost, the committee said, because if it gave the real figure, questions might be asked about why the review is being suppressed.

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