Conservative MEPs today refused to endorse the signing–off of two sets of EU accounts still hanging over from 2012.

They voted to withhold discharge on the accounts of the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications European Council 2012, and on the equivalent set of accounts for the EU Council itself.

This follows a report by the Court of Auditors in November last year which failed to grant the EU's accounts a clean bill of health for the 18th year in a row. A decision on discharge of the two sets of accounts was postponed by the European Parliament in April.

Conservatives have consistently refused to support a discharge for any single set of accounts until the budget as a whole receives a positive statement of assurance from the Court of Auditors.

Chief Whip Emma McClarkin said: "Sadly this stand of ours over the EU's accounts has a long, long history. However, we will never stop reminding the EU institutions that the money they may waste or misspend, or lose to fraud, is not is the public's.

"There must be greater budgetary rigour, closer monitoring of all spending and better accounting for every penny of taxpayer's money. The people deserve no less."

Syed Kamall, leader of Britain's Conservative MEPs, today said the conclusion of the European Union's free-trade agreement with Singapore would mean a host of potential business openings for British and European enterprises.

Dr Kamall, MEP for London, commented "The opportunities involved are simply huge. As well as providing a major boost for professional and financial services companies in London and the rest of the UK, this highlights the importance in coming years of opening up trading relationships with key Far East partners and emerging markets."

The bulk of the agreement was finalised last year, but today the EU Commission indicated that the remaining chapter on investment had been concluded, completing a document which stands at more than 1,000 pages. Now begins the mammoth task of translation into the languages of all member states and detailed checks by lawyers to ensure the consistency of the text.

Dr Kamall has been a member of the parliament's negotiating team on the agreement  for more than two years. He said: "This has been a long and painstaking process – but the benefits will be truly significant. Today's announcement is the final piece is a very complicated jigsaw. Significantly, it will allow EU companies to invest in Singapore enterprises and will afford protection to individual investors.

"In today's tough global economic climate, Singapore stands out as a truly vibrant  trading region – a go-ahead commercial hub that is full of opportunity. Trade with Singapore can open up new commercial opportunities for British and European companies across south-east Asia."

A top EU body tasked with reducing regulatory burdens on business has today backed a Conservative agenda to exempt smaller businesses from a raft of EU laws.

Proposals that were initially put forward by Conservative MEP and Legal Affairs spokesman Sajjad Karim have been supported in a report published by Edmund Stoiber, the former Bavarian Prime Minister who chairs the EU's expert group on slashing red tape.

The report, launched this morning by outgoing Commission President Barroso, says that small businesses can save over £32 billion per year if regulatory burdens can be reduced. It also supports Conservative calls for more rigorous impact assessments to be carried out on legislation, and for national governments to be discouraged from 'gold plating' EU legislation to make it more burdensome than intended.

Sajjad Karim has drafted several reports for the European Parliament on how EU law can reduce the burden on businesses – and especially entrepreneurs. His report first set out the principle that the smallest businesses should be exempt from EU legislation unless there is a strong argument for their inclusion. He has also called for a 'one in, one out' approach to law so any new proposal is offset.

Dr Karim, who represents the North West of England, said: "Cutting red tape is an agenda that the commission is taking seriously. There is a long way to go but it is clear that we are making progress in ensuring that full consideration is given to the impact that EU law can have on businesses.

"EU law is often pro big business, but anti market, because it shuts out the little guy and favours the multinational corporations that have the luxury of compliance teams and banks of lawyers.

"We want entrepreneurs to devote their time to growing their businesses, taking on new staff and growing the economy. Every minute they are forced to consult a lawyer or an accountant amounts to lost productivity in the economy.

"Jean Claude Juncker's Commission must take this agenda forward in the next five years. With his Vice-President Timmermans in charge I believe we will see a real effort in the coming years to reduce the burden on business and to ensure that EU law is only in place when absolutely necessary."

Commenting after the Council of the EU announced that the mandate for negotiating the EU-US trade deal - the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - will be made public, Emma McClarkin MEP, Conservative trade spokesman, said: 

“This is a welcome move that shows clearly this is not a cloak and dagger deal aimed at damaging our public services, but one that will deliver for all European and British people. 

“TTIP has always been about breaking down barriers to free trade that will boost our economies by billions of Pounds, Euros and Dollars. 

“Trade deals by definition cannot be negotiated through the press, but we need to ensure we carry people along with us by being as transparent as possible. We must confront those who are anti-TTIP with facts so opening up the negotiating mandate will help allay many people’s concerns.” 

Complex global issues such as climate change and rising extremism spotlight the need for close co-operation with international partners, MEPs heard today at the re-launch of the European Parliament's EU-China friendship group.

Nirj Deva, Conservative MEP for the South East and chairman of the friendship group, addressed new members alongside high-level Chinese diplomats and stressed the importance of building links between Brussels and Beijing.

He said: “The EU-China Friendship Group was founded eight years ago on the belief that in an increasingly interdependent world, the EU and China could only benefit from a deeper relationship. Over the years, strengthening these ties has required fostering trust and an evolving mutual respect, driven by the development of personal ties between MEPs and Chinese politicians.”

The Friendship Group now consists of more than 45 MEPs; including actors from all seven political Groups, and coming from more than 20 countries. Since 2006, the Group has sent more than 10 delegations to China and has worked in close cooperation, at every level, with the Chinese Government, to encourage understanding between the world’s dominant trading partners, with over 1 billion USD in bilateral trade occurring every day.

Mr Deva, Conservative spokesman for international development and vice-chairman of the parliament's Development Committee, said: “With ever more pressing global issues such as climate change, extremism and interlinking of international markets, it is now more important than ever for us to build closer relationships, based on mutual understanding. This requires, however, active engagement with our overseas partners.”

“Since the Friendship Group was founded in 2006, we have accepted invitations to represent the parliament at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and at the opening of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. In 2008, the Friendship Group delivered tents to the Earthquake victims in Sichuan, and since then have, in cooperation with the EU-China Friendship Association, set up a programme of comprehensive cooperation with the Sichuan local government, as well as with Liaoning and Zhaoquing.”

“We are delighted to have also had the opportunity to set up the World Green Design Forum, which has held conferences in Lugano, Switzerland as well as in the European Parliament, seeking to drive forward a programme of innovation and cooperation in the fight against climate change.”