EU laws: are they really “pointless rules and regulation”?

“Pointless Rules and Regulations”

Those who think the EU is about imposing ” pointless rules and decisions” without our consent might like to read this: to get a better understanding of what the EU does and doesn’t do.

It is often claimed we have no influence in The EU and are often (even always” outvoted in EU decisions. This claims otherwise and that the UK has a good track record of getting what it wants in EU decision making. What the “Leave” campaigners are essentially saying is that of the votes the UK “loses”, it loses 100% of them – a not very useful analysis. It only makes sense if we know how many we “won” (we won 100% of those too), how many we “blocked” in concert with others, how this compares with other large EU states, whether the matters were of national importance and even whether the UK voted against something it either favoured or knew it had to accept simply to say “it wasn’t our decision – the EU forced it on us”. In recent weeks, the UK has successfully blocked EU measures on diesel vehicle emissions and the import of game trophies (in the wake of Cecil the Lion).

In a recent tweet, we can see that as a proportion of total EU decisions, the number the UK has lost is actually tiny!


The Leave campaigners also in pursuing this “we’re always isolated” argument have to explain why we would be any less isolated in international forums of 100 to 200 countries, when we’re “isolated” in one of reasonably like minded countries of 28, where we have the ability to exercise formal and informal power. The “but we’ll be on the ‘top table'” argument doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. In most forums, no-one has a veto (which is a pretty undemocratic instrument anyway): most deals are done by consensus which means negotiating. Other great, and most not so great, powers will negotiate more seriously with a grouping of 28 states and 600 million citizens than one nation of 60 millions.

As for the “70% of our laws are made by Brussels” nonsense, the facts are here:   EU legislation is decided by the Member States, including the UK, and by the directly-elected European Parliament, who can reject or amend proposals by the Commission. So EU laws are made IN Brussels, but not “BY” Brussels.

The UK parliament has no problem of sovereignty when it comes to matters such as tripling student fees (to become the highest anywhere in the EU), to the 3000 pages of legislation to reform the NHS, to introduce “free schools”, to cap benefits, to reduce police levels, to intervene in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, to introduce the “bedroom tax”, subsidised home loans and a whole host of high impact legislative acts that the EU has no say in whatsoever. On matters where the EU does have a say, the UK often goes much further (for example, the 2008 Climate Change Act which set much stricter targets than the EU required). Whether you approve of these or not, which has by far the greater impact on the UK and its citizens: tripling of student fees or common processes for importing ferrets? Which has greatest impact on UK citizens: the “bedroom tax” or being forced to accept common rules on olive and tobacco cultivation? Those are rhetorical questions, by the way.

The idea that the UK parliament is totally powerless and an unwilling participant to legislation imposed by the EU is absolute nonsense. Moreover, the various Leave groups can’t decide whether they want less regulation or whether they want the regulations, just not from Brussels!

Another argument used by BrExiters is that the EU is actually a middleman between us and global standard setting bodies and most of its “rules” are enacting these. In that case, the argument the “EU makes most of our laws” is without foundation. The British Standards Institute and affiliated bodies was therefore the largest law-maker in the UK before the EU, and that has much less democratic accountability than the EU. More importantly, the EU ensures a consistency of approach in implementing such standards rather than each state interpreting standards in their own way, to the detriment of the single market. BrExiters claim outside the EU we’d be at “the top table” in these standards bodies, but that won’t work if we isolate ourselves in the way BrExiters claim the UK is isolated inside the EU [a claim that hasn’t been substantiated].

A further argument used is that the EU delays implementation of standards (by ensuring a common implementation within the EU) and uses this as a “protectionist” policy (by ensuing a common implementation within the EU). Anyone that has ever actually delivered products to new standards (as I have in software, where the benefits of “first mover advantage” are often overstated) knows that being first is not necessarily a good thing. As different interpretations hit the market, the market eventually consolidates around one (or sometimes two) interpretation that has most critical mass. Those not conforming to this interpretation then have to undertake costly re-implementation to meet the accepted standard. If we left the EU, the EU would still agree common standards and interpretations that would still have to be adhered to by UK exporters wishing to sell into the EU.

What is clear is that for many standards (eg in car and product safety) manufacturers will wait for the agreed standard from the largest markets. In the case of the UK that would still be the EU whether we were in it or not. Car makers (for example) will not implement UK specific standards (which could also be viewed as protectionist) ahead of those being drafted by the EU and if they do will most likely charge more for them (as the unit costs go up due to the smaller market). There won’t be many manufacturers wanting a “GB” mark that is different to the “CE” mark for product safety. Indeed, the idea that a more demanding “GB” mark reduces “pointless rules and regulation” is nonsensical and the idea of having a less stringent “GB” mark is hardly going to go down well with consumers concerned with safety.

A complaint of many BrExiters is that EU membership means we can’t be members of the WTO or bodies such as UNECE. By leaving we would join the “top table” on these and other international bodies. However, in checking the WTO and UNECE websites they state that the UK is a full member (indeed a founding member) and there is no mention of a “top table” within these organisations that the UK could be part of were it to “rejoin” these bodies.

What “Leave” seem to want is the sovereignty to agree to important stuff we’d have to agree to anyway and to reject stuff that isn’t important and doesn’t matter!

Were we to leave, what rules and regulations do they think we will we abolish? Will cars and consumer products be less safe? Will employees really sign up to having less, or even no, paid vacation and sick leave? These are inconceivable and business does not seem to be asking for these. Indeed, one recent study concludes that BrExit would not result in the removal of much EU regulation from UK businesses.

Below is a more detailed exploration of the issues:

Geo-Strategic Reasons for EU Membership

Geo-Political Considerations

What is meant by “Leave” the EU?

Analyses of Brexit Options

EU Laws: Are they really “pointless rules and regulation”?

Reciprocity: a glass half full or half empty?

Is the EU really undemocratic?

EU Cost of Membership

Implications for exPat Brits

Will we save money by leaving? The cost of EU Membership

Some tiresome arguments from BrExit advocates

It’s such an easy decision to leave, right?

Was Cameron shafted in the renegotiations?

Commentary on Gove’s BrExit statement

Does BrExit solve the migration crisis for the UK?

Boris at the Treasury Select Committee

Is it really Project Fear?

The Trade Embargo Strawman

Summary of Brexit Alternatives