My Column – The Mirage of EU Rights

Barely a debate on the European Union goes by without the ‘in’ side of the debate pointing to rights which they say were introduced by the European Union: equal pay, anti-discrimination, a 48-hour working week, maternity leave and holiday pay. The pat Eurosceptic answer is to point out that we could easily have introduced any of these things for ourselves outside the European Union. It doesn’t count as a benefit of EU membership if we could have done the same for ourselves.

Until recently I hadn’t really thought much wider than the above, but, in a sudden realisation sitting on an overcrowded carriage in a train home from London, it occurred to me that we can do much better than this. The pro-EU argument here isn’t just weak, it’s a house of cards which falls down the moment it’s actually subjected to proper scrutiny.

I’ll start with equal pay for men and women. The Labour Party had held a policy of equal pay since 1959, but in 1970 the Labour government finally got around to passing the Equal Pay Act, which guaranteed men and women equal pay for the same jobs. Britain didn’t even join the European Union (then EEC) until 1973, and it was the Conservatives – not Labour – who took us in. The double entendre ‘took us in’ is entirely intentional. Directive 76/207/EEC was passed three years later (the clue is in the ’76’) – fully six years after the Equal Pay Act had been signed into law in the United Kingdom. It’s a common theme that apologists for the European Union claim credit for things which were not done by the European Union.

What of race discrimination? The Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and 1976 made discrimination illegal. Whilst the 1976 Act technically took place after we had joined the EEC, in context it is quite clear that this legislation was passed as part of an ongoing move towards equality in the United Kingdom. The relevant European Union directive, 2000/43/EC, would be passed only decades later.

The rest of these claims concern employment rights in one form or another. The best claim for the European Union having influenced any of these issues is holiday pay. In the UK legislation in this regard dates back all the way to the 19th century and the Bank Holidays Act of 1871. That 19th-century British Act arguably provides more guarantees of holidays in law than the 21st century system in the USA. After the Holidays With Pay Act 1938, the direction of travel with paid holidays was already clear. Yet we still, within the European Union, have fewer paid holidays than countries like Afghanistan. Even where the pro-EU case is at its strongest, it’s not actually that strong at all.

In one sense though, that’s beside the point. When the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992, the United Kingdom vetoed the Social Chapter which reinforced the British refusal to sign up in 1989. Being members of the European Union did not force us to introduce any of these measures. It was a political decision taken by Tony Blair in 1997 to sign the UK up, which led to them becoming part of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997. In short the European Union didn’t give those rights, the British government did by making a decision to sign up to the Social Chapter. We could have been members of the European Union without any of this legislation.

You can read the rest of this article at my Huffington Post blog here.

My Column – Politics should be about legislation not what politicians look like

…And in the red corner, weighing in at 8 stone exactly…”  There’s a reason that the ring announcer in boxing gives the weight – and possibly height and reach – of both competitors.  The numbers are part of understanding the nature of the match that’s about to take place.

That reason doesn’t apply to politics.  When the Mail on Sunday asked Liz Kendall (one of the Labour Party leadership contenders) how much she weighs, it was completely irrelevant to the job.  It’s unnecessary press intrusion.  I don’t bandy about words like ‘sexist’ lightly  When you do, they lose their meaning – in a similar way when the word ‘racist’ is used to describe a children’s nursery rhyme, or to describe the Black Country flag designed by a 12-year-old girl (symbolising glassmaking, heavy industry and foundries), the real victims of racism are demeaned.  Reserve the word racism for racists, and it has a bigger meaning.

I don’t swear, so if anyone heard me swear they would know I was fuming with rage.  The swear word has a greater meaning and impact if used sparingly than if it litters every conversation.  Liz Kendall asked whether the journalist would have asked the same question of a man.  The journalist did sort-of did ask George Osborne a similar question last year, when he was busy losing weight on the latest fad diet, though that’s none of the national media’s business either in my view.

The two situations are different in reason and tone.  When a journalist suggests that she might weigh ‘about the same as the Duchess of Cambridge’, for me that clearly crosses a line.  These comments are only being made because she’s a woman, and that’s not acceptable.  Whether Liz Kendall should lead the Labour Party is nothing to do with her gender.  Incidentally, that’s why I also believe that Labour are wrong to have all-women shortlists for Parliament. They should choose the best candidate irrespective of gender or ethnicity.  In the straight-talking UKIP way, I’m going to call out the treatment of Liz Kendall for what it is.  Sexism.

New Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has been subjected to a barrage of questions about his Christianity.  Does he personally believe that gay sex is a sin? What’s his view on abortion?  When you first think about it, this seems (slightly) more relevant than the questions to Liz Kendall.  But have you ever seen a Muslim or Jewish politician hauled over the coals over a similar issue?

I personally choose not to smoke; I don’t believe it’s right for me personally to do that, because of the health risks involved, but I don’t seek to force my personal feelings upon society.  All that matters from a political perspective is my stance about society.  So if – and he hasn’t said that he does – Tim Farron actually personally believes that gay sex is a sin, that’s his personal business.  Or if he believed it would be sinful for him personally to do it, that would be a private opinion.  I say, so what?  On the other hand, if he supported a public policy change to take rights away from gay people, that would be our business.  But he doesn’t, and there’s no evidence that he even believes any of the above either.

He hasn’t called for tougher limits on abortion either – though he has said that every abortion is a ‘tragedy’.  I’d go further myself actually.  I would call for a change in the law: a 24-week limit for abortion when babies now often survive without long-term harm being born at less than 24 weeks is just plain wrong.  I’ve seen Lib Dems leave their party because of Tim Farron’s personal views.  I could think of many reasons to leave the Lib Dems, but leaving because the leader is a Christian? How illiberal; how intolerant!

The ‘job’ in politics should be about what legislation not what we look like, about public policy not gender.  It’s about representing my constituents and working as hard as I can on your behalf – despite covering a vast area that stretches from Darlington to Berwick.  Earlier in this article I said that I don’t use swear words: to do so regularly spoils the impact.  I won’t swear myself, but when Liz Kendall told the Mail on Sunday journalist to “f*** off” I did allow myself a little smile.

My Column – Spartan Spirit and Sunday’s Referendum

Like many legends, it is perhaps a little overstated in the retelling – though only a little. On October 28 every year, Greek communities around the world celebrate the ‘anniversary of the No’. At dawn on that day in 1940, Benito Mussolini demanded that his army be allowed to enter Greece and occupy strategic positions.

Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas is said to have responded defiantly with a single word: “Oxi” – meaning ‘No’. Greeks took to the streets in large numbers, chanting “Oxi!”

The one-word answer is a proud tradition of that part of the world, dating back to the Ancient Spartans. Phillip II of Macedon is said to have sent the Spartans a message with various demands, saying “Unless you agree to my demands I will wage war on you and, if I win this war, you will be slaves forever.” The Spartans responded with the single word “If”. Phillip did not attack. From such Spartan (Lacedaemon) brevity comes the modern word ‘laconic’.

Similarly, the word ‘Oxi’ means more than just no; it is a symbol of defiance. Knowing that refusal would mean all the hardship of war, Greeks had the courage to do precisely that – and in the clearest possible terms.

On Sunday, Greeks will go to the polls for a referendum on whether they will accept punitive bailout terms. A quick reminder of how countries normally recover from financial crisis: their currency devalues naturally, causing their goods and services to be incredibly cheap on global markets, creating jobs and an economic boom.

With Greece shackled to the euro, it cannot take control of its own economy in this most basic way. At this stage any other country would be defaulting on its debt. But Tuesday’s relatively minor Greek default was bitterly opposed – not because of the consequence to the euro, and the political project.

The eurozone puts its own will above Greek sovereignty, attacking the very decision to allow the people a say on such punitive terms. The latest opinion poll suggests 46% will vote ‘No’ to 37% for ‘Yes’.

Europe stepped in to prevent Greek democracy once before, so it has form in this respect. Expect an unprecedented level of cajoling, threats and scaremongering from Europe to attempt to bully Greece into voting ‘Yes’. They have already begun to suggest that Greece will be forced out of the euro if they don’t vote Europe’s way in the referendum. There is no legal basis for this to happen, but if it did – so what? It might cause some temporary short-term pain, but it would provide the Greek economy with the tools (devaluation in particular) needed to recover. After all, who wouldn’t be rushing to take advantage of the weak drachma to enjoy a cut-price Greek holiday? Would Greek olive oil not become very attractive to British supermarkets? The Greek economy would bounce back far quicker with the picture of Apollo back on their banknotes than with the picture of a generic, non-existent bridge.

Will the Greek people fall for the eurospin, or will they show that same defiant ‘Oxi’ spirit which epitomises all that is best about Greece throughout the ages? The word ‘Oxi’ may literally translate as ‘No’, but it means so much more than that. It’s not negative but a positive assertion. An assertion of rights, of self-determination, of what it means to be Greek.

On Sunday the complex referendum question in practice means only this: Do the Greek people accept the right of Europe to overrule their democratically-elected governments?

You can read this article in full on my Huffington Post blog here.

 

My Column – A Case Study in Judicial Injustice

Justice should be the same for anyone: rich or poor; male or female; gay or straight; religious or atheist, British or non-British. I reject the ideas of those who claim that some people should be treated more leniently than others. The notion that women should receive a lighter sentence than men for the same crimes is a nonsense, as is any thought that cultural values could excuse sexual offences. Likewise, I reject the ideas of those at the other end of the spectrum who would use our justice system as a form of revenge or who would treat immigrants more harshly.

I believe that sentencing policy is generally too light for a range of offences, mainly those involving violence, dishonesty or contempt of a court order. The impact of violent and dishonest offences upon the victim is profound: burglary, serious assaults and theft from an employer for example should be treated more seriously than they are at present. If you, through repeatedly breaking the law, find yourself disqualified from driving and continue to drive anyway, then the level of danger and contempt is such that only a prison sentence can be justified.

I recently read this article which provides a case study of everything that is wrong with the current system. I’m going to redact nationality and religion because these things shouldn’t matter when it comes to sentencing.

A father, supported by his family, had a surprise in store for his daughter’s 14th birthday. He sent her younger siblings off to school, then gathered the family together. He dressed her in a wedding dress and, it appears without warning, introduced her to a man in his 30s. A wedding ceremony was conducted and she was coerced into saying words in a language she did not even speak. Later that day, the man she had just ‘married’ raped her. It appears that the father did not know that the man was going to rape his daughter, and the agreement was that they would not have sex until she was of legal age to do so. The daughter fled the family home after being raped.

The man who she had ‘married’ left the country soon after, and only the father was in court to answer charges over the forced marriage. The primary responsibility of course lies with the rapist, but the father’s actions seriously endangered his daughter. Parents have a responsibility to keep their children out of harm’s way, not to put them directly into it.

Ask yourself what you think a fair sentence in such circumstances should be. Does it meet the aims of punishment – does it adequately punish the crime, deter others from committing similar offences, and protect the public? Rehabilitation must come after the rest, if only because the others relate to society and rehabilitation to the offender only. It’s important, and we need a prison system which is able to meet that need.

You can read this article in full on my Huffington Post blog here.

If you don’t like TTIP, you’re going to hate the European Union

First published 25th June 2015 in The Journal

 

Nigel Farage is in his 17th year in the European Parliament, and he tells me he’s never seen anything like it. We’ve been deluged with emails, letters, phone calls and other messages about the proposed trade deal between the EU and the USA. At one point I had to respond to over a thousand emails in 24 hours. A lot of people reading this article will have already been in correspondence with me on the issue.

The Left of British politics have attacked this trade deal because of the huge power it would give to big corporations: as it stands American companies could compete for public sector contracts in the UK, companies would have immense power to sue national governments and big business, not small business, would benefit. They’re right to do so. Personally I’d be all for a genuine free trade agreement between the UK and the USA, expanding our markets, but not the ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)’. What’s being proposed isn’t a free trade agreement, but a corporatist trade agreement.

When this all came before the European Parliament and it became clear that there was massive public interest – largely unreported in the media – the Parliament’s President used an arcane procedural point to cancel the vote. That point could technically be used to cancel a vote on almost any matter with significant interest, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it used. The next morning, they cancelled the debate too.

Everything that’s wrong with TTIP is not an isolated instance, but a miniature glimpse into the workings of the European Union. If you dislike TTIP for the reasons above, you should truly hate the European Union!

European Union public procurement rules already force UK government contracts to be put out to tender to foreign companies. The Private Finance Initiative (which was the driving force behind the part-privatisation of our NHS under Labour) was a product of that Labour government trying to get around EU rules on public spending. Ask yourself the question: does it even make sense that Labour Party, the Party of Aneurin Bevan, would have part-privatised our NHS voluntarily? Yet if our government fails to follow these rules, then we can be hauled over the coals and sued in the European Court of Justice.

There are over 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels, which is more than 40 lobbyists for every MEP – though I’m not interested in being lobbied by big business. I’m interested in being lobbied by my constituents. Corporate lobbyists push for tough new legislation, knowing that they can cope with it – whilst small businesses don’t have the resources and will be put out of business. I’m not interested in being wined and dined by them, or the free-flowing champagne which is on offer every night in the European Parliament buildings to those who are prepared to listen (or sell their soul?) to corporate lobbyists.

Democracy and the will of the people are routinely ignored: they force people to vote again until the ‘right’ referendum result is achieved, and the unelected Commission has far more power than the elected MEPs. Decisions are made behind closed doors and if – like Greek Prime Minister Papandreou – you dare to challenge the European Union on anything – you find yourself out of office very quickly.

These are exactly the same problems as we have with TTIP, and worse, only they’re not just proposals – they’re going on right here and right now whilst we’re members of the European Union. This is why the ‘old’ Labour guard – people like Tony Benn – opposed the European Union. Sadly, that movement within Labour is just a shadow of its former self. Even if I disagreed with some of what they said, I respected where they came from. They truly cared about working people.

As a UKIP Member of the European Parliament, I take left-wing views on certain things – like helping working people to make an honest living – and right-wing views on others – for example I want tough action on crime. I oppose uncontrolled mass immigration from Europe (right-wing) for left-wing reasons. A massive oversupply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour drives wages down for British workers, which is great if you’re mega-rich and want to hire a nanny, but terrible if you’re a bricklayer, security guard or electrician.

Blog – Summary of TTIP delay and commitment to continue to oppose ISDS and the TTIP proposals

I have received a huge amount of messages from my constituents about TTIP and I just wanted to post a little update about what’s been going on this week in Strasbourg, let you know what I’ve been doing and how I will continue to tackle the TTIP issue in the future.

On Tuesday, the President of the Parliament postponed the vote on TTIP (which was scheduled for Wednesday) but the debate was still going ahead.  Then, as we turned up for the debate at 8am in the morning, we were ambushed by a proposal to postpone the debate as well.  I spoke on behalf of the UKIP MEPs, saying that the debate should continue because this is a matter of such public importance.  You can watch this speech here:

Sadly, we lost the vote by 183-181 (the British Conservative Party voted to cancel the debate) and the debate was also postponed.

I’ve made two other interventions in the chamber this week before the debate/vote was postponed, and you’ll be able to see the videos below:

  1.  I managed to persuade the European Parliament to extend the debate on TTIP so that it can be given greater scrutiny (before it was later cancelled):

2. Because TTIP has been impacted by big business lobbying, you may also be interested in the point which I made in one of the debates on intellectual property rights, about the sheer number of corporate lobbyists in Brussels.  The 1-minute speech can be found at: http://www.jonathanarnott.co.uk/2015/06/parliamentary-speech-i-am-more-interested-in-hearing-from-my-constituents-than-30000-big-business-lobbyists/

Earlier this week I also spoke out during the meeting of UKIP MEPs, and pushed the point very strongly to my colleagues that they should take the same anti-ISDS, pro-NHS and anti-TTIP position that I am taking.  I was slightly surprised to learn that almost all of my colleagues feel as strongly as I do on this.  I have also discussed the matter with colleagues from other parties and other countries, urging them to take a similar position.

I’m very disappointed that I will have to wait to represent my constituents on this matter, I don’t yet know when the vote will now take place but my best guess is that it’s most likely to happen at the July Strasbourg session and whenever it comes before the European Parliament, I will continue to oppose ISDS and these TTIP proposals.

I will continue to keep everyone updated about this important issue through my Twitter feed @JonathanArnott and here on my website at www.jonathanarnott.co.uk.  I hope you will agree that I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that your voice is not ignored!

Yours,

Jonathan Arnott MEP

My Column – How to Win Referendums and Alienate People

A cynic’s guide to winning an EU referendum for a pro-European Union prime minister. So far, David Cameron is following my simple, step-by-step guide to the letter. How much longer will it last, I wonder?

1. Announce that there will be an EU referendum years in advance, when it looks like you won’t be in power to push such a referendum through.

2. Spend years doing nothing to renegotiate with the EU, on the basis that the referendum probably won’t happen anyway.

3. When this plan inexplicably fails and you fluke a General Election win through fear of the SNP, it’s time to move to Plan B.

4. Don’t ask for anything the British people actually want, as part of your proposed renegotiation. Anything we want, the EU won’t let us have.

5. Ask for things which are generally meaningless or semantics.

6. Find a couple of minor issues that the other leaders will fight you on.

7. Win those battles, largely because the concessions involved are tiny.

8. Come back from Brussels trumpeting the ‘success’ of your renegotiation with the EU.

9. Tell the British people how amazing your ‘new deal’ actually is.

10. Make sure that the referendum question makes no mention of the two alternatives: EU membership, or free trade agreement. Mention only the EU. People vote for the status quo if you don’t make the alternative clear.

11. Who should vote in the referendum? There’s a clear strategy to ensure this is weighted in favour of the pro-EU camp:

a) Announce early that the decision on Britain’s future should be one for British citizens

b) Set the earliest possible date for the referendum to be held

c) Wait for the pro-EU House of Lords to amend the Referendum Bill to allow more people to vote

d) Tell everyone that your timescale won’t be derailed, so you won’t wait to use the Parliament Act to force the legislation through

e) Cave in to the demands, allowing a wider electorate to vote

12. Now the real campaign starts. You’ve got to portray yourself as a eurosceptic who’s been persuaded that actually, we now have a great deal with Europe.

13. Whatever you do, do not tell anyone that you have another Plan B up your sleeve. You know perfectly well that you could get a good free trade deal with the EU if we were outside it, but don’t let that one slip. Make people feel that they’d somehow be isolated if we left.

13. Scaremongering and denigration will now take you the rest of the way: repeat a big enough lie often enough, and people will believe it. Now where have I heard that phrase before?

14. Scaremonger about non-existent jobs that depend on EU membership. They don’t, of course, they depend merely on trade with the EU which would be unthreatened if we were to leave.

15. Scaremonger about every ‘good thing’ that the EU does for us, and forget that every benefit of the EU is only a benefit because we’ve handed the power over from Westminster to do it better ourselves.

16. Denigrate your opponents. They’re extremists, the lot of them. Racists perhaps (the closet variety). Of course they are; they don’t agree with YOU, Dave. The people who want to trade with the wider world and emerging markets, avoiding insular narrow-minded EU protectionism? Why, they must be little Englanders!

17. If a newspaper goes against the EU, it’s a gutter tabloid and the press should be more responsible. If it comes out in favour of the EU, that’s responsible journalism.

18. It has to be socially unacceptable to accept you want to leave the EU, so smear early and smear often. Imply that a ‘No’ vote is a vote for racism, to prevent more people putting their heads above the parapet.

 

You can read the rest of this article on my Huffington Post blog here.

 

My Column – Some issues are best decided by people, not politicians

At the time of writing, Ireland has just voted ‘Yes’ in a referendum on gay marriage.

I think that’s far more democratic than the way that gay marriage was introduced in this country, where David Cameron didn’t put it in the Conservative Party manifesto, didn’t hold a referendum, and redefined the word ‘marriage’ – a word steeped in centuries of tradition – because of his personal belief.

The decision taken in Ireland was made in a fair, open and democratic manner; the decision taken in the UK wasn’t.

The Scottish referendum on the Union engaged the public in a way that party politics simply cannot: turnout was high across all age groups. Young people care about political issues more than they care about the colour of a rosette.

Part of the answer to the age-old question of why young people in a modern society don’t vote, is that we don’t have a modern democracy. Some issues are best decided by the people not the politicians.

On a moral issue, why should an MP’s vote matter more than yours on any of these issues? The Left in British politics have opposed greater democracy for many years, fearing that people would vote for social conservativism (or the return of the death penalty – I don’t believe people would vote for it to return, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t have a referendum on it), but the Irish referendum on gay marriage proves that it isn’t so simple.

Ukip has campaigned for years to allow the public to call a referendum on key issues, through a petition with a certain number (two million at present) of signatures. Whilst Ireland’s decision was more democratic than the UK’s, wouldn’t Ukip’s proposal be more democratic still? The proposal to introduce gay marriage wouldn’t have come from a politician, but from the people.

Our big mistake in the UK was to hold a referendum on changing the voting system to AV. Top-down referendums don’t work – they should be called by the people on issues that matter to us, not by the government on issues that matter only to them.

AV was just about the only voting system that’s LESS proportional than First Past The Post, and people correctly voted it down.

Our outdated system is creaking at the seams, and a proportional system is needed: every SNP vote was ‘worth’ 149 Ukip votes in terms of the number of MPs elected. Ukip gained more votes than the SNP and Lib Dems put together, yet took one seat to their 64, and five million people voted Ukip or Green yet saw only two MPs between them.

If we’d had a proper 21st Century system of Direct Democracy, we’d have held a referendum on the European Union long ago. Now it looks as though we’ll finally get one.

The question now is, will that referendum be free and fair?

In the 1975 referendum, official government pamphlets said there would be ‘no loss’ of sovereignty, and sadly enough people believed the lie.

Now we merely watch from the sidelines as countries which didn’t join the European Union (Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Monaco, etc.) consistently outperform those which did, and reap the benefits of having the power to negotiate their own trade deals rather than waiting to see when the EU’s Trade Commissioner will do it for them.

Now we need to be vigilant. Will Cameron try to nudge the vote towards staying in by allowing non-British citizens to vote? Will the outright lies (and the scaremongering over mythical job losses if we leave) be countered clearly by evidence showing that trade would continue with Europe whilst we’d have the freedom to develop trade with the big wide world?

You can read the rest of this article on the Journal website here.

My Column – Not Your Stereotypical Ukip Member

I’m writing this article on May 25th, one year to the day from the announcement of the election result, when I was elected as UKIP’s first ever North East Member of the European Parliament. Given the criticism from many people about UKIP’s work in the European Parliament, I thought I’d write about what I actually do.

When UKIP is wrong, I’m not afraid to speak out – as this article shows. Far from the media suggestion that UKIP clamps down on anyone who dares to speak out of turn, I’ve had nothing but praise for that article from within the party. No dressing down from the boss, no angry phone calls from the press office. I’ve voted against the party line in the European Parliament quite often – and never once been in trouble with the ‘whips’ for doing so. UKIP respects my freedom of conscience to vote as I see fit.

I started as I intend to go on. My term of office started on July 1st, and just days later my name was chosen at random to scrutinise the election for the Commission President. Speaking in front of the whole Parliament, I refused to scrutinise the election: we had just one candidate to choose from, and the election was by secret ballot! How, I asked, could it be right that our constituents couldn’t know how we voted? I refused to take part in the organisation of such an undemocratic process.

When the European Parliament breaks its own rules, as this video shows, I’m not afraid to speak out either. In that case, the Parliament had disabled the red button so that we could not vote ‘no’. Likewise, when the Parliament has a double standard or debate is cancelled I point that out too.

Funnily enough, with my first proper speech in the European Parliament on youth unemployment I joined a very exclusive club: my speech was actually praised by an EU Commissioner. I’d pointed out that countries should learn from each other: there are things that we can learn for example from Germany, where there is no stigma attached to a vocational route in education. Of course, I had also said that it’s more efficient for countries to fund employment programmes themselves rather than send money to the EU, only to request it back. Nevertheless, a UKIP MEP’s speech was praised by an EU Commissioner. I jokingly offered myself for disciplinary action to our Chief Whip, who was equally bemused.

Contrary to the accusations made by our opponents, I’ve turned up. My voting record is hovering between 97% and 98%; I wish it were 100% and – health permitting – that’s my target for next year. But still, it’s much higher than most parties’ records at Westminster – which, I’ll remind you, is actually in this country. The journey to Strasbourg is a 1,500-mile round trip and Brussels 1,000.

Recently I’ve taken to live tweeting the votes in the European Parliament. I think the Parliament is too remote from people in the UK, and things which would be a scandal if they occurred at Westminster pass people in Britain by when they happen in Strasbourg. Last week, President Schulz was asked whether the Parliament might hear a few words from the candidates in an internal election; his response was classic: “When we have an election, it is without debate”. Hopefully by live tweeting the votes, I can show people just how far the European Parliament falls of modern standards of democracy.

I don’t accept hospitality from lobbyists. The champagne and refreshments are free-flowing and available almost every day of the week in Brussels. There are more lobbyists in Brussels than in Washington DC. Sadly, that means that big business is able to mould legislation to give it a competitive advantage over small business. Big business doesn’t mind excessive regulation because it has the infrastructure to cope; it knows perfectly well that such regulation will harm its smaller competitors. If you attend such events, how can you know that your vote hasn’t subtly been influenced by the free champagne? For similar reasons, I don’t take part in the regular foreign junkets organised by the European Parliament.

On the other hand, I’m always much happier to spend time speaking to local businesses and constituents, helping them where I can. We may yet win the fight against the appalling lack of foresight in the VATMOSS regulations, which came into force in January and has been putting small businesses which trade with Europe out of business. Hopefully it will at least be amended to fix the problem, if not repealed entirely.

I’m keen to submit amendments to lessen the impact of proposed EU legislation, but I’ll be honest: it’s taken time to understand the intricacies of the Committee system in Brussels – and the committees I’m on are related to finance anyway, rather than legislation. So whilst I have submitted some amendments, notably to save taxpayers’ money in the EU budget (and watched whilst they were voted down), it’s not something I’ve yet been doing on a daily basis.

On the other hand, I’m one of the few British MEPs to have had the opportunity to vote on TTIP (the controversial proposed EU-USA trade deal). Knowing that one of my colleagues would miss the meeting, I volunteered to attend to make sure that UKIP was represented when TTIP came before that committee. I voted against the possibility of NHS involvement in TTIP, and against the principle of private companies having the right to sue national governments over policy. Finally, given that the votes were negative I voted against TTIP altogether.

Meanwhile I’m trying to represent an area so geographically large that it can take up to 3 hours just to drive from one end of my constituency to the other! So in order to be as accessible as possible to my constituents, I’ve spoken at public meetings the length and breadth of the region, speaking and answering questions about my role as a member of the European Parliament. There’s always a balance between doing the job in Brussels and Strasbourg – where I have some of the best records of any British MEP for speeches and Parliamentary questions – and getting back to the UK to feed back to constituents. Many of my Parliamentary questions take up causes on behalf of constituents.

The media side of my job is substantial, partly because a UKIP MEP tends to be something of a figurehead within that region and also partly because foreign TV channels are interested. So my national media appearances have included the Daily Politics, Newsbeat, Good Morning Britain, Radio 5 Live, the Today Programme, The World At One, BBC News, and many more. At a regional level, I’ve done Around the House, the Sunday Politics, ITV News and various other local radio stations. I have a regular column in a major regional newspaper, not forgetting of course to write here for the Huffington Post!

 

 

You can this article in full at my Huffington Post blog here.

Jonathan Arnott MEP discusses TTIP

Much like the NHS issue, many local people have raised concerns with me about the proposed  Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal.  TTIP is a very complex proposal that if put in place will have wide reaching consequences for the people of the UK.  It is vital that we have a thorough, public debate on this issue and I am pleased that it has finally started to be dragged out of the dark, hidden backrooms of Brussels.

Whilst the party have not yet publicly announced our stance on TTIP, UKIP have formally committed ourselves to, at the very least, securing an exemption from the agreement for the NHS.

Whilst signing trade agreements with countries around the world is key to UKIP policy, aside from the well publicised potential impact it could have on the NHS, I have many concerns about this proposed agreement.  These concerns include the secretive, hidden manner in which it has been negotiated by faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats and also the proposed right for multinational corporations to sue national governments.

Most worryingly of all about this proposal is that it seems that the EU are not taking concerns with TTIP seriously and plan to plough along with the plan regardless of UK concerns that are being very widely  raised.

I support the idea of a free trade agreement between the UK and the US.  Such an agreement could potentially be very positive for both nations, but to work it would have to be very carefully crafted and it would need a full and fair public debate before it was signed. This would need to be a deal specifically and carefully tailored to be in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom.

We now have seen a leaked draft proposal of the agreement (from the European Union) and this leak confirmed many of my fears.  It also confirmed that the NHS could well be severely impacted by the agreement – UKIP have already publically committing to,  securing an exclusion for the NHS in TTIP.

It is important to remember than this is just a proposed draft of the deal (from an EU perspective.) once this proposal had been opened to US negotiation, if they don’t reject it outright, they will demand many changes to suit their own agenda.  If the best case EU proposals don’t suit the UK, what is the US approved version going to look like?

Oh Tuesday the 24th of March, I had the privilege of voting on TTIP.  Although I am not a member of the relevant committee (IMCO), I volunteered to take the place of another MEP who was unable to attend on that day.  Naturally, I voted to support the exemption for the NHS and other public services from TTIP; this motion was carried.  I also voted against the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, but sadly was outvoted by 22-17.   Given the result of that vote, when we came to vote on the whole draft opinion, which supported TTIP, I felt therefore that I had to vote against.  This vote was also lost, by 20-18 with one abstention.

Whilst UKIP do not yet have an official stance on the issue, I have long held many deep concerns about TTIP.  The recent leaked proposal has not assuaged these concerns and whilst I am not able give a definitive answer until I see the final document, if the recently leaked draft or the proposals I recently discussed in committee come before the European Parliament, I would vote against it.