UKIP remove chair of youth wing for being too pro-gay marriage

"You are providing ammunition to the media… to say we are irrelevant"

UKIP have removed the chair of their youth wing, Young Independence, allegedly due in part to his stance on gay marriage.

Olly Neville, who had been elected chairman of the organisation last year, confirmed that he had been removed due to outside influence, tweeting that:

 

 

In another tweet, now deleted, Neville reposted an email sent to him from the party's chairman, Stephen Crowther, which informed him that:

…the NEC has resolved that you should not continue to act as interim chairman of YI, owing to the problems regarding party policy and public statements about which we have corresponded over the past week.

Liberal Conspiracy has a copy of that email.

A second email posted by another member of YI recounted the specific problems Crowther had with Neville:

On the BBC World at One on New Year's Eve, you were interviewed and said that (a) the European elections were a "sideshow", and the real action is at Westminster; and (b) that you were a supporter of Gay Marriage and that the Prime Minister was right about it.

While Crowther's concerns about the first point are rather revealing – he tells Neville, "if you are quoted as saying the Westminster is where the action is, it is self-evident that we have no MPs… You are therefore providing ammunition to the media and our opponents to say that we are irrelevant" – the fact that Neville was partially removed from office for supporting gay marriage strikes at the heart of UKIP's self-image.

Although the party has roots in a single-issue opposition to the EU, with a healthy dose of anti-immigration rhetoric and social conservatism, it has also been adopted as the UK's de facto Libertarian Party by many younger members (a slight blow to the UK's actual Libertarian Party, but there you go). Indeed, many in YI – Neville included – describe themselves as anarchist or anarcho-capitalist.

Now that the party hierarchy has cracked down on that tendency, however, the future of UKIP as a party placed firmly to the conventional right of the Conservatives seems assured. That will come as a relief to the Prime Minister, who was facing a battle on two fronts with the fringe elements of his own party; libertarian conservatives are left, once again, with nowhere to go.

UKIP has rid itself of some of its strongest members. In contrast to the "odd people" David Cameron criticised over the weekend – the anti-gay PPCs and Malthusian eugenicist council candidates – the youth wing is slick, forward-looking and making arguments which have the potential to appeal to floating voters. Or was, at least. Whether it can continue to do so against the wishes of its parent party is another question.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.