EU’s demands for UK to pay additional £1.7bn is ‘outrageous

The EU’s demands for UK taxpayers to cough up an additional £1.7bn is ‘outrageous’ and the leadership of the Conservative Party is in ‘complete disarray’ according to UKIP’s EU budget spokesman, Jonathan Arnott MEP.

EU Chiefs plan to charge an additional £1.7 billion from UK taxpayers on the back of the UK’s better than expected economic performance in recent years.

Meanwhile, Syed Kamall, leader of the Conservatives’ MEPs, admitted this morning that Treasury officials may have known about the EU’s new demands a week ago.

Since then, Cameron told his MEPs to vote in favour of the EU’s new unelected commission, their whips overruled him and said to abstain, whilst still more MEPs voted against.

Arnott said “This farce would be as big a comedy of errors as Ed Miliband’s Party Conference speech if it weren’t so serious. Cameron broke his promise on the Lisbon Treaty, his much-trumpeted ‘budget cut’ was actually just a below-inflation rise, he failed to stop Juncker becoming Commission President and his EU ‘renegotiation’ hasn’t removed a single stroke of a pen from a single EU law. Now hard-pressed British taxpayers are being expected to cough up yet another pile of cash that we can’t afford. Cameron is out-manoeuvred at every stage by the European Union, and it’s our taxes that foot the bill”.

Eurocrats have recalculated national payments to the EU based on economic performance since 1995. Whilst the UK pays money to the EU, Germany and France are due to receive nearly £1.6bn between them.

It would add about a fifth to the UK’s annual net contribution of £8.6bn.

“It’s Alice in Wonderland stuff”, Jonathan Arnott continued. “Our ‘economic recovery’ is invisible in the North, yet we’re supposed to send cash to France. And Greece and Italy, in economic meltdown, are being expected to subsidise Germany. And these figures, backdated to 1995, are based on the EU’s estimate of illegal activities like drug dealing, which never gave the Exchequer a penny piece. The phrase ‘you couldn’t make it up’ has never been more apt.”

Time for a sensible discussion on e-cigarettes

Hundreds of thousands of people have managed to quit smoking cigarettes and moved on to e-cigarettes instead.  It’s pretty obvious that, although e-cigarettes aren’t exactly as healthy as quitting smoking altogether, in comparison they will drastically reduce the risk of the various health issues associated with smoking.

I wouldn’t object to a certain regulation of the e-cigarette industry; in much the same way as food and drink are regulated it’s important that consumers know what is in them and in what quantities so that they are able to make an informed choice.  It’s also a good idea to ensure that whilst they exist, they’re produced in such a way as to minimise any health risks.  On the other hand, the European Union Directives expect e-cigarettes to be classified as medicines and over-regulated accordingly, putting a lot of smaller firms out of business.  Phrases about sledgehammers and nuts spring to mind.

Research published in the Addiction journal shows that “people attempting to quit smoking without professional help are approximately 60% more likely to report succeeding if they use e-cigarettes than if they use willpower alone or over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum”.  We should be supportive of the e-cigarette industry not opposed to it.

In the Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee there was a fascinating discussion about counterfeit cigarettes and smuggling.  There’s a huge problem with counterfeit cigarettes being smuggled into the UK and elsewhere; the EU’s proposed plain packaging would be a counterfeiter’s dream.  I’d never realised before that Committee that there’s also an issue with so-called ‘ant smuggling’, where people cross land borders into Europe a number of times a day bringing a relatively small (say, a thousand cigarettes at a time) number of cigarettes across.  It’s not an issue for the UK, but it is for much of the rest of Europe – another example of why a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t always work.

I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life.  I think I’d probably find I enjoy it, and I certainly don’t want to get addicted to cigarettes.  So I’ve done the responsible thing and never smoked.  Neither have I ever smoked an e-cigarette, so I have no axe to grind here.

I grew up in smoke-filled rooms (not the kind in which political parties made deals – I played chess to a decent standard, making the England Under-21 squad, and was regularly competing against adults in club matches from about the age of 7).  It was the League which acted first, long before the law, to ban smoking during matches.

The difference between then and now could hardly be starker.  No-one should be suggesting that we should go back to how things were in the 1980s and 1990s; for those who were in that environment on a daily basis I would find it difficult to believe that there wasn’t a serious danger attached to passive smoking.

Now, of course, Boris Johnson wants smoking banned in Hyde Park.  In such an open-air environment, where is the health risk to anyone other than the smoker?  And surely, if we drive those people to smoke indoors with poor ventilation, there will be a greater risk to their own health and that of their families.

A Wind of Hope Coming From Clacton

If there is a hope, then perhaps it lies in a gentle sea breeze blowing westward from Clacton.

A remarkable coincidence occurred last week on the train on the way back up to my constituency, sitting next to a colleague for whom I have enormous respect and discussing UKIP’s potential amongst the working class forgotten by our political elite.

He quoted a sentence from George Orwell’s 1984, which I’ve had on my mind for some time: “if there is a hope, it lies in the proles”. Neither of us would use the word ‘prole’ ourselves (although Matthew Parris might) to refer to the working classes because it has developed derogatory connotations since Orwell penned his ominous work in the 1940s. Orwell’s contention that hope against the Big Brother State lay with the working classes was explained “because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, eighty-five percent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated.” There’s a certain parallel with today’s political structure. It’s not in the trendy wine bars of Islington, or the seats packed with middle-class public sector workers, that anti-establishment feeling is likely to arise. Opposition to political correctness is unlikely to come from those who propagate it, and opposition to EU Directives is likely to come from those whose jobs are jeopardised by them.

The consequences of failing to comply with the politically correct establishment of today may be less horrifying than Room 101, but deviation from its path is enforced equally swiftly. Anything which strays from that message results in instant condemnation on Twitter and across the media. We’ve seen it in the last week. Nigel Farage comments that perhaps, in general, we should not allow those with serious life-threatening (and often communicable) diseases into the UK – at least not unless they can afford to pay for their own treatment – and witness the howls of outrage.

A University rugby team puts out a laddish, poor-taste, tongue-in-cheek leaflet. The appropriate reaction, to tell them to withdraw the leaflet and not to be so stupid in future, was missed. Instead, the club was suspended, it made the BBC news and students were ‘offered counselling’ in case they had been psychologically scarred from reading it. Anyone pointing out the overreaction, myself included, will no doubt be accused of ‘defending sexism’ or suchlike. No! I despise sexism, just as I despise racism, homophobia, and any other discrimination. I’m just saying that the offence taken should be proportional to the error, otherwise it cheapens the real ugliness of heartfelt racism like that I’ve seen for the first time in years in the European Parliament.

Political correctness is indeed hard to define, but you know it when you see it. But on the streets of the working-class constituencies which have the potential to be the future of UKIP, there is no such political correctness. The Conservatives are wrong to be so worried about UKIP ‘taking Conservative votes’, and Labour are wrong to be so complacent. Clacton contains Jaywick, the poorest Council ward in the country. UKIP did so well precisely because it was a working-class seat which has a huge disconnect with the Conservative Party. Thurrock and Boston & Skegness, both Conservative-held Labour targets which are likely to be snatched out of both of their hands by UKIP, may well be amongst the first to fall after Clacton.

But in the long-term, it is the Labour-held seats in working class areas which will be at risk in huge numbers. Clacton, Boston & Skegness and Thurrock fall into a very small category: strongly working-class seats with a Conservative MP. But in the longer term, there are far more such seats in Labour areas. In my own area alone (North East England) I might highlight Hartlepool, South Shields, Tynemouth, Blyth Valley, Wansbeck, Stockton South, Stockton North, Darlington and Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland amongst others as having potential for returning UKIP MPs in the longer term. Perhaps we won’t take many of those seats in 2015, but imagine how UKIP would do under an unpopular Labour government with Miliband as Prime Minister.

Labour can’t represent those voters because they don’t understand them. Up until now, they have relied on loyalty and Labour’s past reputation. Labour voters in those seats rarely provide a positive reason for voting Labour; rather, they explain that they have ‘always’ voted Labour – the Party which stood up for the working classes in the 50s and 60s. Once they finally get fed up with Labour, they will be just as loyal to UKIP as they were to Labour. In Sunday’s Survation poll which had UKIP on 25% of the vote, it’s noticeable that the Party was actually leading nationwide amongst the DE socio-economic groups.

Whilst Labour nationally seems complacent, local Labour constituency associations seem quicker to have spotted the UKIP threat. The challenge for UKIP here is merely to ensure that Labour’s lies go unchallenged. Where they claim that UKIP wish to privatise the NHS, we need to point out the lie – and go on to say that Labour are the Party of PFI. We need to point out that Labour peers Lord Winston and Lord Warner are the politicians who want to charge people to see their GP and pay for hospital visits.

Who said “A fully privatised NHS is the best option”? Actually, nobody said it. That’s just what Labour claimed on their leaflets in Heywood & Middleton that UKIP’s Deputy Leader said. He never did. He did once make a personal comment about procurement in the NHS, bemoaning the fact that we pay up to 30 times over the odds for some drugs. It wasn’t Party policy even so.

Likewise, some UKIP members are calling for the resignation of Labour’s Richard Howitt MEP after his sick tweet “UKIP says abort disabled children, put people w/learning diffs in camps & bans disabled candidates.” It’s about time that the Party started fighting back against such things. UKIP’s disabilities spokesperson Star Etheridge said “As a disabled person myself who encourages all other disabled people to enter politics, I find Mr Howitt’s repulsive comments deeply insulting and it is clear that he is not fit for office. He should hang his head in shame, issue an apology and stand down as an MEP. I am proud to be a UKIP councillor, I am proud to be UKIP’s Disabilities Spokesman. Mr Howitt’s comments are despicable.”

Strangely, nobody is claiming that Labour plan to charge patients to see their GP. Perhaps UKIP should offer Labour a deal: if they stop telling lies about us, we’ll stop telling the truth about them.

Rejuvenate and sell empty homes in Durham to protect our green belt

Durham’s County Council should make much greater efforts to rejuvenate and sell empty properties rather than ‘carve up’ the city’s green belt, according to Durham’s UKIP Euro MP, Jonathan Arnott.

The County Durham Plan earmarks land for 5,200 new homes around Durham by 2030, including 4,000 on green belt land.

Durham County Council chiefs say protected countryside must make way for new homes and businesses to reverse the county’s long-standing economic decline.

Arnott said “It is disgraceful that Durham County Council seem quite content to carve up the City’s countryside in order to build new homes, whilst thousands of properties still remain empty.

“Durham is a beautiful city, and we would be far better utilising the land to promote tourism in the local area, rather than make it into yet another look-a-like city centre”.

According to the most recent figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government, Durham is the local authority with the third highest number of vacant dwellings in England.

Sue Childs, from the Durham City Neighbourhood Planning Forum, told a public inquiry into the authority’s 15-year masterplan that the City of Durham could “be left with a cathedral and castle as a token heritage site, encircled by a large housing site”.

Where I stand on TTIP‏

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed trade deal between the EU and the USA, which is already proving to be controversial – although I suspect it to still be years away from coming to fruition. Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation being put out about my position – including by 38 Degrees. I am therefore publishing my views here on my website.

TTIP is a very complex proposal.  It is vital that we have a thorough, public debate on this issue; at present, MEPs do not have access to the full text.  To an extent, we are therefore running blind.

As a Party, UKIP is committed to the principle that there must be an exemption from the agreement for the NHS. I recognise the importance of this issue to many local issues, and I have submitted two written questions to the European Commission about the proposal. I have raised the issue of the Investor-State Dispute Mechanisms and sought clarification over the proposed power for multinational corporations to take legal action against national governments. Both of these, if they are as reported in the press, would be unacceptable in my view.

As a UKIP MEP I have other concerns; the EU Trade Commissioner negotiates this deal on behalf of all 28 countries of the European Union.  They may well not look out for British interests in areas where we are traditionally strong; a one-size-fits-all deal won’t work.

I understand the benefits that a genuine free trade agreement between the UK and the US could offer (and indeed, so could a free trade deal between the UK and many other countries including our forgotten Commonwealth partners). However, I am far from convinced that TTIP will be in our national interests.

Addressing Child Poverty in the North East‏

In the wake of today’s story in the Chronicle that child poverty is rising to such an extent that almost 50% of young people in some parts of the North East (47%, Elswick, Newcastle) are living in poverty, I was asked on Twitter for my views.

Sometimes, 140 characters just isn’t enough to do justice to an issue.  I don’t think that even a single article is enough to do justice to it, either.  I believe that we have genuine poverty today in a way that we didn’t see when I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.  At that time, people spoke of poverty in relative terms.  But I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about in the 21st century.  We’re talking about families who literally struggle to put food on the table, children going to school hungry and without having suitable clothing.

Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s first elected MP, said “If we speak with passion, let it always be tempered with compassion”.  In just a few words, he’s articulated exactly what UKIP should be about.  I may be passionate in opposing the waste of our foreign aid budget, when it goes to countries in the G20 or those with nuclear and space programmes.  But I am equally compassionate when I hear of those suffering with and dying from Ebola, those whose livelihoods are wrecked by tornadoes, earthquakes and floods. In those cases we should be the first to help.

I may be passionate about having a controlled immigration policy, but equally compassionate about helping our fair share of refugees who are genuinely fleeing persecution.  I may be passionate about having a much tougher stance on crime, yet believe in compassion and mercy where the circumstances warrant it.  I may believe that our National Health Service should not be an international health service, yet still believe that it’s right to make exceptions in a case like that of Malala Yousafzai – whether on humanitarian grounds or simply to send out a message to the world.

That’s the UKIP way: passion, tempered with compassion; libertarianism, tempered with common sense; democracy, tempered with nothing.

I’ve seen the problem of child poverty through visits to food banks.  I don’t believe that in the 21st century we should still have a society where food banks are needed – but we do.  And whilst we do, as well as having a responsibility to speak out as an elected Member of the European Parliament, I believe I have a responsibility as a citizen to do my bit in donating.

Many children in poverty have parents who are in work, for whom the minimum wage just isn’t enough.  What can be done?  We can’t adopt Labour’s £8/hour minimum wage plan, because it would be beyond the ability of many companies to pay (particularly here in the North East).  That would just increase unemployment and wouldn’t help anyone.  Instead, we should raise the tax threshold so that those on minimum wage aren’t paying a penny piece in income tax.

For others the problem is sick leave; some people fall through the gaps when they’re ill and only capable of working sporadically.  In the absence of a regular income, the bureaucratic nature of the benefits system means that they often get nothing at the time they need help the most.

The answer here is to simplify the benefits system; well-meaning but misguided Labour politicians from 1997 to 2010 made the system so complicated that many people don’t get the help they need when they fall on hard times.

Still others struggle for lack of a job, and our North East unemployment is the highest in the land.  The answer here is to create jobs: to have a bonfire of EU regulations, make British business more competitive, scrap laws pushing our energy prices higher, and to provide tax relief for small businesses.

Politicians of all parties will say things like “we have to do more to stop child poverty”.  I don’t disagree, but the best approach would be to unravel the mess that they’ve created.

No tax on minimum wage, a simpler and fairer benefits system, and encourage businesses to grow and create jobs.