Baby steps to an exit?

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In the Tory crusade to appeal to Eurosceptic supporters, Theresa May announced she wants Britain to opt out of the EU crime and justice powers by June 2014. This is a rather half-hearted effort to curb Brussels meddling which follows Wharton’s Private Members Bill on an In/Out referendum passing through its Second Reading. It could be interpreted as an attempt to boost their image, exploiting Labour’s weakness on the EU and finding inspiration in UKIP’s stance. It is clear that the Conservative Party is trying to thwart UKIP’s success by rebranding itself as a Eurosceptic party.

The powers that the EU has in crime and justice include controversial policies such as the European Arrest Warrant. The Home Secretary lashing out at Brussels is being framed as the first step in the renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU, a prelude to Cameron’s push for wider reforms. In truth this is a process that was written in to the Lisbon Treaty; a block opt-out that applies to 133 measures in one go, followed by the chance to opt back in to any of the measures that Britain wishes to remain a part of. This is far less than what the Great British Public want. One opt-out will not prove that the UK can keep Brussels in check.

Ultimately, this move on its own will not be enough to satisfy Eurosceptics. The Crime and Justice rules are not the biggest issue about our membership with the EU. It still seems that the Tories are dipping their toes rather than plunging into the pool. At very least, however, it does indicate that the Getting-Out agenda is getting entrenched in the political consciousness.

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