STRAIGHT TALKING June 2015
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
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Tory MPs join the OUT Campaign
I was pleased to hear that fifty Tory MPs have committed to fight for the OUT Campaign in the forthcoming EU Referendum. Of course they’ve built in the fig-leaves – they “fully support Cameron’s renegotiation strategy”, and will campaign for OUT “only if the outcome is unacceptable”. They know as well as you and I do that Cameron will come back with no more than a few cosmetic changes, but they have to say these things from a party loyalty perspective.
Indeed they themselves have set the bar so high – border controls and parliamentary sovereignty, the right to set aside EU law – that we can be sure their programme will be laughed out of court by Brussels. So unless the sky falls, they must and will campaign for OUT, putting country before party.
Cameron has made a tactical error by threatening his Cabinet Ministers with dismissal if they campaign for OUT. Forty years ago, Harold Wilson used the device of an EU referendum to paper over the splits on the issue in the Labour Party. Cameron could have followed suit. Instead, his high-handed approach threatens to reignite the Tories’ Civil War on Europe.
I’m very pleased that the fifty Tory MPs have made this move. We in UKIP can’t win the Referendum on our own. We need the broadest possible coalition. Yes, we need Tory MPs. And we also need to cherish the brave handful of Labour MPs who will support OUT, like Frank Field and Kate Hoey. We need voices from the Trade Unions and from industry leaders.
This means a new approach to campaigning. We in UKIP are highly competitive, always able and eager to find the chinks in our opponents’ armour and stick the knife in. But the Referendum Campaign will bring us together with some unfamiliar allies. For this campaign (and this campaign only) we need to make common cause in the national interest, not the party interest, with those whom normally we would regard as the opposition.
Lord Sainsbury to mastermind the YES Campaign?
Tony Blair’s old friend and ally Lord Sainsbury seems to be emerging as the éminence grise behind the YES Campaign. I was struck by his comment that “our industrial and economic success is tied with the future of Europe and we can’t stand aside from that”. I’m sorry, Lord Sainsbury, but you’ve got it backwards. Our industrial and economic success (or failure) is linked preferentially to Europe because we signed the Treaty of Rome (and other treaties). It was a choice we made – and it has proved to be the wrong choice. The EU is the only major economic area in the world which is in long-term relative economic decline. Why would we want to link ourselves primarily or preferentially to a sinking ship?
But if that’s the bad news, the good news is that Europe is one mistaken choice which we can un-make. And the Referendum is our opportunity. The UK is not naturally an off-shore province of Brussels. Our natural rôle is as a global trading nation. Outside the EU we shall be free of the stultifying and hugely expensive weight of European regulation. We shall have lower energy prices, and lower food prices. We shall be free to deepen trading links with the Commonwealth (whose GDP is now greater than that of the €urozone – and growing faster) and with other fast-growing areas of the world.
Lord Sainsbury should be asking why Switzerland – and even tiny Iceland – have free trade deals with China, while we don’t. And why the EU’s Transatlantic Free Trade Area is bogged down in interminable negotiation, when we could have had a far better UK/US deal decades ago.
It’s not just the EU
We’re accustomed to the EU imposing perverse and irrational judgements on the UK – but sometimes it’s not just the EU. One of our Prime Minister’s rare good ideas may have fallen foul of the UN.
Cameron is quite wrong in his commitment to a bloated foreign aid budget at a time when money is so tight at home. But given that we are indeed spending £13 billion or so on foreign aid, we may as well do something useful with it, and Cameron’s idea for spending on improved security to stem migrant flows in North Africa, while it may or may not work, is worth consideration.
The snag is (according to the Daily Telegraph) that the UN won’t recognise this activity as “Foreign Aid” – and Cameron is keen to retain his bragging rights on his 0.7% of GDP. Cameron needs to have the courage to tell the UN that they can categorise the spending any way they want, but it’s our money, we’ll spend it as we choose, and we’ll treat it as foreign aid if we want to.
Some people are saying that an early referendum (2016) would favour “Out”, because Cameron would have less time to negotiate reforms of the EU. Others say that a later vote (2017) would favour “Out”, as there would be more time to develop the arguments.
I think that the biggest driver of “Out” votes will be the nugatory nature of any concessions that Cameron manages to achieve, together with the sense that we made a reasonable offer which was rejected out-of-hand by Brussels. And that would apply in both 2016 and 2017.
TTIP: A nuanced view
We MEPs are getting a large number of e-mails objecting to TTIP (the proposed Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership). The messages are strident, and seem to be infused with an attitude that is strongly anti-American, anti-business, anti-trade and anti-market (and therefore anti-prosperity and anti-jobs).
Some of my colleagues are ready to go with the populist pressure and to declare UKIP “The only Party opposed to TTIP”. I prefer a more nuanced approach.
First of all, we all agree (I hope) that free trade is a hugely good thing. It has been a major driving force behind the spectacular increase in wealth and prosperity in Western countries for a hundred years (and in the rest of the world more recently). We all agree that any transatlantic trade agreement must include safeguards for the NHS – and we are assured that TTIP will include such safeguards. We all agree that ISDS provisions (Investor/State Dispute Settlement) must be scrutinised carefully and not give undue rights to corporations (though some colleagues seem unaware that ISDS, far from being some evil new construct from Amazon and Google, is in fact a commonplace of hundreds of existing trade agreements).
We all agree that we should prefer a bilateral deal negotiated directly between the UK and the USA (and many of us feel that we should have had such a deal decades ago, but for our membership of the EU). But we are where we are. We are not currently in a position to negotiate a bilateral deal, so it’s an EU/US deal or nothing. And an EU/US deal (with proper safeguards) is better than no deal at all (as it is with other countries, like Korea, for example).
So if I am satisfied that any proposed TTIP deal is, on balance, in the interests of my constituents and my country, I shall support it. But although there will be various resolutions on TTIP along the way, there will be no final vote on it for years, if ever. We will have plenty of time to read the small print. See my blog post.
TTIP: Breaking News: I’ve just returned (8 a.m. UK time June 10th) from a riotous session in the Hemicycle. We were scheduled to debate and vote on the TTIP Report (remember this was about TTIP negotiations, not for or against TTIP, as there is no final text to vote on). The “Conference of Presidents” had already decided to postpone the vote, ostensibly to allow the large number of amendments to be reconsidered (by the Trade Committee) and condensed, but in fact because they’d failed to reach agreement between major political groups and feared losing the report.
We then had a fierce argument about whether the debate on the report should go ahead (because there was a lot of public interest, and people out there keen to see what would happen) or to delay the debate until we were ready to vote (probably in July), so that the arguments would be fresh in the minds of MEPs as they voted. I personally didn’t feel strongly either way, but the party decided to oppose the postponement. We lost on a roll-call vote by a tiny margin – 183 to 181. For me, the big surprise was that there were 364 MEPs in the Chamber to vote by eight o’clock.
Three Cheers for Jean-Claude?
I’m starting to suspect the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker must be a new recruit to the “OUT” Campaign. He reportedly said that David Cameron is using the Referendum plan to “dock” Britain permanently in the EU. (But perhaps he meant “lock”).
I believe that the extraordinary hubris of Juncker’s self-serving comments will infuriate British electors, and drive many of them to vote “OUT”, just to show him. Thanks Jean-Claude. This could be worth a million votes.
A casual act of civic vandalism
For some unfathomable reason the City fathers of Brussels have decided to remove the beautiful, heavy, Victorian-style wrought-iron railings around the park in Brussels’ Rue Luxembourg. Workmen were cutting them down this morning as I passed, around 7:15. (They start early here).
I was reminded that during the Second World War similar railings across the UK were cut down to provide metal for the war effort. I doubt that the City of Brussels has such an excuse. This is a rather shocking and inexplicable example of casual civic vandalism.
The eurosceptic left
Given the Labour Party’s strident opposition to an EU referendum (recently reconsidered), and the Party’s strong support for Britain’s EU membership, it is easy to assume that the strand of Euroscepticism which once flourished in the Labour Party has been extinguished, and that opposition to Brussels’ hegemony is found only on the centre-right.
After all, what has happened to Eurosceptic Union Leaders like Bob Crow, and politicians like Wedgewood Benn? Alas these heroes of the European debates are long gone.
So it’s reassuring to know that Euroscepticism lives on on the left, in the Labour Euro Safeguards Campaign, led by the indomitable John Mills. Well done that man. We may disagree on many things, but we agree that the proper forum for debating those issues is at Westminster, the political heart of a sovereign nation, and not in Brussels.
No left-wing bias at the BBC?
The BBC’s news chief James Harding has dismissed claims that the broadcaster shows left-wing bias. According to the Daily Mail, he points to the recent Conservative victory in the General Election as evidence that the BBC is not biased. The hubris is remarkable. Does he imagine that the BBC is the only influence on voters in a general election? Though it may well have been the case – in my view it certainly was the case – that both UKIP and the Tories would have done better without the BBC’s relentless leftism.
But Harding’s view illustrates the BBC’s problem. I’m sure he’s quite honest in his belief that the BBC is unbiased. That’s because he sees the BBC’s Guardianista, soft-left agenda as absolutely balanced and centrist. To him, left-wing bias would mean being to the left of the BBC. And clearly, the BBC cannot be to the left of the BBC. By the same token, UKIP and the Tories are right-wing – because they are to the right (if the term still means anything) of the BBC position. If only he could step outside the box. Or to quote Scotland’s bard: “O, wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as others see us!”
Science policy after Brexit
I’ve had several enquiries from the scientific community about Brexit, and its possible impact on (A) science funding; and (B) access to skills (with regard to immigration).
The answers here are simple. Every pound we receive in EU funding costs the British economy around £3. So after Brexit, we’ll be better able to fund science than we are today. (Exactly the same applies to agricultural subsidies, by the way).
And the science community does not need to worry about access to skills. UKIP wants an immigration policy based on numbers and skills. We understand the need for imported skills and expertise in key areas, not least in science and the NHS (though we should do a better job of training our own people – the shortage of doctors is a scandal). Does British science benefit more from (on the one hand) an Indian software engineer, an Australian geneticist or an American nuclear physicist? Or (on the other hand) from a couple of dozen unskilled Eastern Europeans? As the Americans say, go figure!
Equally, we recognise the major benefits to the UK economy of educating foreign nationals in our schools and universities. This is an important “invisible export”, and we in Britain are very good at it. So we’d provide temporary visas for foreign nationals to study in the UK. We also recognise that some of these foreign nationals may wish to remain, and contribute to British science and the British economy, after they complete their education. These people would of course be considered for longer-term residence under the overall numbers umbrella.
Who votes in the EU Referendum?
There is a great debate about who should have the right to vote in the forthcoming EU referendum. Only British citizens? British plus Irish (who vote in General Elections)? All “EU citizens”? Sixteen and seventeen year-olds?
Broadly speaking, the pro-EU camp wants the largest possible electorate, believing (probably rightly) that “EU citizens” are more likely to vote IN, and (less probably) that 16s & 17s will do the same.
A letter in the Daily Mail on June 3rd from an Alex Orr in Edinburgh suggests that denying a vote to EU citizens in the UK’s EU referendum would be a “Democratic Disgrace”. He argues that EU citizens who have worked in the UK for some years and contributed to our economy have a right to a vote – and more right than a British expatriate who may not have contributed for many years.
This point of view is both preposterous and self-serving. This is a vote about the governance of our country – indeed in a sense about the continued existence of our country. It is a vote about our identity and our democracy. It is our decision about our future. The idea that other European nationalities – foreigners – should have a say on our country’s future is the real “democratic outrage”.
I myself have worked abroad. I was more than three years each in Thailand, Korea, and Malaysia. I believe I contributed to their economies – I certainly paid my taxes – during those years. But I didn’t demand the right to vote, and I should have received a pretty dusty answer if I had. I was a resident and tax-payer in those countries, but I was not a citizen. Clearly I had no right to vote in their elections.
The current plan is to use the general election list, which allows an estimated 800,000 Irish citizens to vote. I have real concerns about this. It may well be in the interests of Irish citizens that the UK should remain in the EU. But it is certainly not in Britain’s interest.
Like many politicians, I decided to take a holiday after the General Election. Well, more like a long weekend. I went down to the pretty fishing village of Beer, on the South Devon Coast.
While there, I visited one of my favourite Lutyens properties, Castle Drogo, currently undergoing a major and much needed restoration in the care of the National Trust. On one of the staircases, visitors were going both up and down, and notices urged us all to keep to the left. I remarked to a steward standing on the landing that I was pleased they had chosen to keep to the left, in the English style. “Yes” he replied, “we don’t want any more of that European nonsense”. At that point I revealed to him that I was an MEP, and we had a good chuckle – and a meeting of minds.
Frequently on a long journey I like to stop at a National Trust (or similar) property for lunch – in preference to a motorway services. On the way down we’d stopped at Hestercombe to see the Lutyens/Jekyll gardens. I’d hoped to stop on the way home at Buscot Park, to see the amazing Burne-Jones “Legend of Briar Rose” cycle of paintings, but unfortunately it was shut on the day. So I chose instead to go to Hidcote – checking with the NT book to ensure it was open.
So imagine my disappointment on arriving at Hidcote to find a “Sorry we are closed” notice. In the car park were thirty or forty cars, their occupants milling around in disappointment, and wondering why the property was closed. Some had come great distances to see the house and gardens. I phoned the office, and was told that the high winds that day represented a Health and Safety problem, so the property had been closed
But all was not lost. On the way into Hidcote we’d seen a sign for the Ebrington Arms in the nearby village of Ebrington – so we found a place for lunch. I cannot commend it too highly. They had several local beers (real ales) on tap, and I had half a pint (I was driving) of “Yubby”, which is actually local to the pub itself. Excellent. And the food was exceptional – clearly produced by someone who took real care and pride in the cooking. To think that a couple of decades ago, England was a byword for bad food. How times have changed.
That’s it from Strasbourg for this June session. Please remember to visit my web-site, & my blog. And follow me on Twitter: @RogerHelmerMEP
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org