Up to half of British laws come from Europe, House of Commons Library claims
By Martin Beckford
Up to half of all legislation passed by the British Government comes from the European Union, according to independent Westminster researchers.
Parliament is enacting more than 3,000 regulations a year which originated in Brussels, the House of Commons Library found.
They range in importance from the Working Time Directive, which limits the time junior doctors can spend on the wards, to rules governing the classification of padded waistcoats.
The figures, far higher than those quoted by the former Labour administration, are likely to lead to renewed claims that Britain is giving up its powers as a sovereign state to unelected bureaucrats.
It comes as David Cameron struggles to persuade European leaders not to agree a 6 per cent rise in the EU’s budget for next year.
Earlier this month 35 eurosceptic Conservative MPs defied party whips to vote against increasing Britain’s net contribution to the EU budget to £10.3billion by 2015.
Douglas Carswell, the prominent Tory backbencher, said: “This House of Commons Library paper clearly shows the extent to which public policy is now made by EU institutions and British ministers are left to pretend that they are making the decisions.
“If the Conservative party is to make good its promise to return powers from Brussels it needs to recognise the scale of the problem and stop pretending. William Hague and his colleagues in the Foreign Office also need to stop the further transfer of powers.
“Very many regulations now come from Europe and there’s very little those we elect at the ballot box can do about it.
“I tried repeatedly to get these figures from the last Government, so this report shows at least someone in the House of Commons is doing their job.”
The new study, called How much legislation comes from Europe?, is the most detailed yet to calculate the proportion of national law that is based on, or influenced by, EU regulations.
It says that previous estimates have differed widely, with a figure of 9 per cent used by Labour since 2005 while a former German president once put it as high as 84 per cent, and there is “no totally accurate, rational or useful” way to work it out.
The research paper says there was a “steady increase” in legislation directed from the continent after Britain first joined the European Economic Community in 1973, much of it following the main treaties. By the early 1980s there was a “peak” of more than 14,000 regulations and instruments but the volume has fallen since the 1990s.
“The working time directive is arguably of far greater significance to the working population of the Member States than, for example, the Commission Regulation on ‘the classification of padded waistcoats in the Combined Nomenclature’.”
Governments also implement “soft law”, the non-binding declarations and resolutions emanating from various European institutions, along with rulings delivered by the EU’s Court of Justice.
The paper states that 186 of the 1,302 Acts passed by Parliament between 1980 and 2009 (14.3 per cent) were influenced in some way by EU obligations.
But the “vast majority” of EU laws were enacted by secondary legislation, or Statutory Instruments.
The authors attempt to “estimate what proportion EU regulations and EU-related UK laws form out of the total volume of UK laws, including all EU regulations”.
Last year it says there were 3,050 new laws related in some way to Europe, 53 per cent of the total passed.
Mats Persson, director of the think-tank Open Europe, said: “This study reveals that putting a number on the percentage of UK laws coming from the EU is almost impossible. But, in any case, it is far more important to measure the actual impact that EU laws have on the economy and individuals on a day-to-day basis.
“Our research, based on the Government’s own figures, shows that in 2009, 59 percent of the regulatory costs facing individuals, businesses and the public sector in the UK stemmed from EU legislation. This is a far more useful measure than merely counting individual laws without any sense of their relative importance – and it shows that the EU now has a massive impact on the UK.”