I’m writing this with an oddly surreal sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the universe. Okay that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but something happened today that is a historical first.
As a UKIP member of the European Parliament, I’ve actually managed to get one (technically three along similar lines) of my amendments to the EU budget passed by the Parliament. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen: having previously submitted many hundreds of proposals to save taxpayers’ money, I’ve always watched them voted down by huge majorities.
When I was a young teenager I was taken on a school exchange visit to Northern Spain. Part of the visit included going to a bullfight, and I won’t ever forget either the stench of blood mixed with sand on a hot summer day or the cheering of the crowd at an animal’s suffering.
Even if you consider bullfighting to be acceptable (and I certainly don’t), this is not what our taxes should be going towards.
I’ve been pushing my opposition to the use of EU money (and, therefore, your taxes) to subsidise bullfighting for the past three years. The last time the issue came up, the European Parliament complained about the practice – only to be told by the European Commission that EU regulations didn’t allow the Commission to do anything about it.
As it seemed like the issue had been quietly dropped, I had another go. I drafted an amendment suggesting that as the Commission are responsible for drafting EU Regulations, they might do well to actually fix the offending Regulation rather than adopt a ‘not me, guv’ approach.
I did all the usual things – a quiet word here and there with those who might support me, and I emailed my entire Committee to ask for their support. When the vote was lost in Committee, I thought that was likely to be the final result – but together with some Italian colleagues, we persuaded others in my Group to allow us to retable the amendments to the full Parliament.
We won, making it the first ever UKIP amendment to the EU Budget to be passed by the European Parliament. It honestly came as a bit of a surprise, because I thought we’d need the Committee’s backing to get the vote through the Parliament.
I would now be busy with a self-congratulatory slap on the back, if it weren’t for two things. Firstly, the Commission may again try to weasel their way out of dealing with the problem. Secondly – and far more importantly – I tabled over 300 other amendments on different subjects with the aim of saving taxpayers’ money, and from the EU’s perspective they really should be preparing for the hole in their budget that Brexit will cause. Others were calling for more transparency about the activities of the unelected European Commission. Those other amendments were all rejected out of hand, though surprisingly one demanding transparency failed by just thirty votes – one win, one near-miss, and hundreds of losses.
I find it incredibly frustrating that as a UKIP MEP, I’m often accused of doing nothing or not trying to minimise the problems caused by the EU: the reality couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s just that we’re usually outvoted by those who want (and most of them admit it) a United States of Europe.
Many people used to claim that the EU can be reformed. At one time they would have cited this one victory as evidence that reform is possible, but the EU’s intransigence over Brexit negotiations must surely now show what a pipe dream that was.
A victory is still encouraging, even when every victory is accompanied by over a hundred defeats. But with the European Union, even when you win the battle you’re still losing the war. Roll on Brexit!