Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
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David Cameron’s Damp Squib
So now we have the outline of Cameron’s “New Deal” with the EU.
We were promised a return of sovereignty to parliament. What do we get? A cumbersome “emergency brake” where we can only reject EU laws if we can gain the support of 55% of the EU – maybe fourteen member-states. This is unlikely ever to be invoked – it is essentially worthless window dressing. Like “subsidiarity”, it is designed to create an impression of accountability where none exists.
We were promised controls on immigration. But all we get is some marginal fiddling with migrants’ in-work benefits, which the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility says is unlikely to affect immigration rates.
We were promised Treaty Change. We’re not getting it.
And there are some vague promises about regulation and about “ever closer union”, which will be forgotten before the ink is dry. All I get from this is the questionable satisfaction of saying “I told you so”, for I always predicted we’d end up with a few cosmetic concessions and no substance.
We in UKIP want full independence. No ifs, no buts. But many undecided voters might be impressed if Cameron could get what he promised. Add action on budget contributions, on fisheries, on over-regulation and energy, and a lot of people might be persuaded. But it was not to be.
Cameron has tried to distract us with his relentless focus on the marginal issue of benefits. Meantime the Remain Campaign is using a different distraction technique. Again and again they insist that Britain will become like Norway or Switzerland – paying for market access, and subject to rules we can’t influence. But the choice is not between being full EU members, or becoming quasi-associate members like Norway. The choice is between being in the EU, or being independent. Sometimes I think the Remain Campaign doesn’t quite understand what Independence means.
In that context, it’s a bit worrying that the Vote Leave Campaign (not Leave.EU) is dropping hints that we could have a second referendum, or settle for some kind of associate membership. You would have hoped that they at least would understand the idea of independence.
I’ve just heard the debate on the British Question in the Strasbourg parliament. Nigel made a cracking speech, and was quite brilliant in responding to a hostile “Blue Card” question. See it here.
Will Scotland leave the UK?
I don’t think so. See my blog.
UK: A “Safe Haven” after Brexit?
Barclays has reportedly suggested that Brexit could result in economic disruption in the remnant-EU, against which the UK and the Pound Sterling could come to be seen as a “safe haven”. In this context, the Scots might well prefer to remain in the relative security of the UK and the Pound.
The Single Market
We’re constantly told that it is vital to be in the EU’s Single Market – but a new study from Civitas shows that third countries outside the Single Market are doing better at growing their exports to the EU than countries inside. The truth is that countries outside the Single Market have no difficulty trading with it – and nor shall we.
But if we vote to stay…..
Two points. First, the Remain Campaign is trying to present the decision as a choice between the status quo in the EU, which we may not like, but at least is familiar, and the “leap in the dark” of Brexit. But independence is not “a leap in the dark” – it is the normal state of most countries, most of the time. And the EU is not a “status quo”,but rather a break-neck journey to a United States of Europe.
Second point: if we vote to stay, the Brussels apparatchiks will take that as carte blanche for anything they want to do. They’ll conclude we’ve given up our opposition to the project, and that they can take us for granted.
Love Europe — Hate the EU!
Years ago I produced this bumper sticker, and I still get rather nostalgic messages asking if it’s still available. So I’m ordering a re-run. It seems to be the right time. Full details as soon as available. For those who want to quibble, “Europe” is a geographical area comprising many countries with separate languages, cultures, and traditions. “The EU” is a political construct. It is quite possible and consistent to love the country — the culture, the cooking and the countryside — but at the same time to hate the political system under which it operates.
GO! at Kettering
We’ve all heard about the two organisations vying for the official OUT Campaign nomination from the Electoral Commission. They are Leave.EU and Vote Leave. During January, I had the opportunity of visiting both, along with other UKIP MEP colleagues. Both organisations have great strengths, and the irony is that their strengths are complimentary. As a party, we have argued strongly that they should combine into a single and formidable organisation.
Meantime a cross-party group of MPs has decided to get on with the campaign. Calling themselves “Grassroots Out”, or GO!, they have decided to stage a series of regional and local meetings. The launch meeting was on Saturday Jan 23rd at the Kettering Conference Centre, and it was an outstanding success. More than 2000 people attended. There were queues of traffic from the station and the A14 junction as the parking stewards struggled to cope. The event was chaired by our own Margot Parker, and the audience heard speeches from Nigel Farage; from Labour’s Kate Hoey; from DUP MP Sammy Wilson; and from three local Tory MPs Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Philip Hollobone (Kettering) and Tom Pursglove (Corby).
Kate Hoey is a great speaker and a great politician. She has been unswerving in her opposition to EU membership (and is also a great supporter of Country Sports — a special interest of mine). In both these respects she may be closer to the Labour membership than the leadership, who seem to be mostly neo-Marxists from Islington.
I’ve known Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone for many years, and they are both redoubtable fighters in the battle for the UK’s independence. Tom Pursglove I know less well (he is said to be the youngest Conservative MP in the Commons), but he too seems very sound. Sammy Wilson has previously served as Lord Mayor of Belfast and is now MP for East Antrim. He gave a rousing speech in favour of Brexit. I happen to know that he is also a convinced climate sceptic — which is a neat irony since he once also served as Environment Minister in Belfast.
If ever there was a time to put Country before Party, surely it is now, as we campaign for British independence. I was delighted to see four major parties represented in Kettering, and I would urge all UKIP colleagues to embrace this campaign. I was delighted by the enthusiasm of the huge audience. I doubt that the IN Campaign could rally a tenth of the numbers at such a meeting. I believe that the referendum is winnable, and I believe that differential turn-out, driven by the enthusiasm of our supporters, set against the apathy of the Ins, could be a key factor.
I spoke recently to a prominent Conservative parliamentarian (naming no names), who suggested to me that many sceptically-minded colleagues felt that they should, as a courtesy to the Prime Minister, keep their powder dry for the moment. But now that Cameron has returned, waving a piece of paper like Chamberlain before him, they will feel free to come out of the closet and campaign for Brexit. Not quite the reaction the Prime Minister will be hoping for after all those arduous meetings in Brussels and around the Chancelleries of Europe.
Farmers for Brexit
I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Lutterworth Dairy Farmers’ Group at the Lutterworth Cricket Club on January 28th, with our UKIP Agriculture Spokesman (and Chief Whip) Stuart Agnew. For me, it was just down the road (Stuart had the long trek from Norfolk), and an easy evening, because naturally with farmers Stuart did most of the work.
Farmers are naturally worried about what happens to their CAP cheques when we leave the EU. Stuart reminded them that Britain had a perfectly good farm support scheme before we joined the EU, and will have one afterwards. The difference is that it will be a scheme designed in Britain for British farmers, not a scheme designed in Brussels for French farmers.
Some people seem to think of the EU’s CAP as uniquely generous, but Stuart produced figures showing that in terms of percent of GDP spent on farm support, the EU is in the middle of the pack.
Of course we assume that the current Conservative government will still be in place the day after the Brexit vote, and we can’t speak for them. But all politicians recognise the importance of food security, rural employment, and maintenance of the countryside, and it is inconceivable that the UK government would not. In reply to those who questioned whether a British government would be as generous as Brussels, Stuart reminded us that the UK contributes around £6 billion to the EU CAP budget — but gets only £3 billion back — so there’ll be cash to spare.
One point which Stuart stressed for agriculture (and is true more generally) was this: that a vote for the EU is not a vote for the status quo. It is a vote for a process leading inevitably to a United States of Europe. The new countries that may join the EU (and especially Turkey, which David Cameron wants in) are very poor. So they will be net beneficiaries. They will attract extra CAP funding — which means less money for Britain (and France and Germany). Stuart also pointed to regulatory developments that will damage farmers. We ban GM crops in the EU — but import GM crops from abroad. We are banning critical herbicides and pesticides — but importing crops grown abroad with the same chemicals.
We are undermining the competitiveness of UK and European agriculture, while driving up imports and hurting our balance of payments. I could not but reflect that in the energy field (my specialist subject) we are doing exactly the same — undermining competitiveness in Europe, and driving jobs and industry and investment off-shore. There’s only one solution. The only way is Brexit.
Next day, on Jan 29th, I was saddened to read of the plight of dairy farmers. Some have fixed contracts, but the open market price is now so low that many are struggling. Slack exports to China and Russia are blamed — but perhaps the end of China’s one-child policy may increase demand for milk and milk products.
Message on a number plate
While visiting Lutterworth with Stuart Agnew, I noticed (for the first time) his number-plate. It tells its own story. EU 03 OUT.
Brexit on BBC World at One
On January 27th, I was asked at short notice to do a live interview on BBC Radio 4’s World at One. I was expecting it to be about the presentation made by Commission apparatchik Jonathan Faull at our Group Meeting that morning. In fact it covered more general Brexit issues. I thought it went quite well. Catch it here, about 42 minutes in.
Film on COP21 and climate issues
In my last newsletter I gave a link to a couple of films made by the ADDE. I have spent some more time with the film by Professor Istvan Marko of UCL, and I would strongly recommend it (if you haven’t watched it already).
Electricity supply crisis
UKIP (and I as UKIP Energy Spokesman) have been warning of the risks to our electricity supply position for some time. A new report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers makes alarming predictions about the UK’s energy supply over the next ten years. (I have a particular soft spot for the IMechE as my father used to lecture in Mechanical Engineering at Southampton University many years ago). They expect a supply shortfall of 40 to 55% by 2025. That follows the closure of coal-fired power stations (courtesy of the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive), and the retirement of our elderly nuclear fleet.
It is thanks to the dilatory approach of successive governments, typified by Gordon Brown’s decision to sell Westinghouse, that we have allowed our nuclear industry to languish, and the skills base to erode, so that now we need the French and the Chinese to help us build Hinkley C(or rather, to build and finance it for us).
Now we should worry if the shortfall were zero, because we need a positive balance of ten or twelve percent to insulate us against the unexpected. But a 40 to 55% shortfall is nothing short of catastrophic. Remember that we can’t build new nuclear capacity in the remaining nine years until 2025. Germany is building a couple of dozen new coal-fired power stations, and we could do the same, but our government lacks the courage to face down the Green Blob.
Meantime, they’re calling for a massive increase in plug-in electric vehicles. But they don’t tell us where the electricity will come from.
There must be a use for EU laws
I was recently booking some holiday insurance and the (UK) company asked where I was calling from. I answered “Brussels”. Sorry, Sir, we can only give you a quote if you’re calling from the UK. I said, “Look I’m not a lawyer, but I’m an MEP, and that’s why I’m in Brussels. And I think your policy of refusing quotes to people calling from Brussels is probably a breach of EU Single Market rules”. Sharp intake of breath, followed by music. They came back and agreed to give me the quote. I’m not sure whether I should be proud of striking a blow for free markets, or ashamed to have invoked EU rules. A moral dilemma.
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Back last year I saw the first performance of the ENB’s “Le Corsaire”, at that capital of culture Milton Keynes. The ENB was touring the production ahead of the London run. On Sunday Jan 24th I saw the last show in the current production run, at the Coliseum, with Laurretta Summerscales dancing Medora.
For those who don’t know it, Le Corsaire is a wonderful Victorian Arabist romp, based on Lord Byron’s famous poem of the same name. Most of the music is by Adolph Adam (who wrote “Oh Holy Night”), but with many contributions from others including Leo Délibes (a student of Adam), Ludvig Minkus, and just about anyone else writing for the ballet at around that time.
High-brow critics tend to disparage the populist plot and the simplistic, almost hackneyed Orientalism, and to deride the music as “a rag-bag”. But one man’s rag-bag is another’s treasure chest, and I find it quite wonderful. I rate the Act Two pas-de-trois with Conrad (Le Corsaire), Medora and Ali as one of the greatest sequences in the whole ballet repertoire. The current ENB production comes with extravagant designs by Hollywood designer Bob Ringwood (of “Batman” fame).
At curtain-call, ENB Artistic Director (and Prima Ballerina) Tamara Rojo came on-stage to announce that not only was that day Laurretta’s birthday (she was 25, if I’ve got my sums right), but that she was also being made up to Principal Dancer at the ENB. Very well deserved.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org