Ukip MEPs are failing to engage with the political process. Photo: Getty
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The frustrating reality of having Ukip represent the UK’s interests in Europe

I’m afraid to say we made the wrong choice as Ukip are beginning to prove time and time again their insignificance in Europe. 

The European Parliament took a vote of confidence today on the newly appointed Commission of Jean Claude Juncker. The vote, triggered by the Luxleaks tax avoidance revelations, was called by the EFDD group in the Parliament of which Ukip makes up a majority. The vote failed by 461 votes to 101 and Nigel Farage didn’t even turn up.

The Luxleaks scandal is very worrying – under Juncker's watch as Prime Minister, it looks like Luxembourg arranged at least 300 secret deals with multi-national companies to help them avoid tax – and he must be held to account for this. But Ukip’s moves should be seen for what they really are: another futile heckling tactic which is more about grabbing the headlines than real action

May 22 2014, the day that Ukip won the European elections, I’m afraid to say we made the wrong choice as Ukip are beginning to prove time and time again their insignificance in Europe. I understand the frustration with the traditional three main parties who offer little more than different shades of business as usual, but a vote for Ukip is a vote for empty gesture politics.

As revealed earlier this year, Ukip MEPs are failing to engage with the political process as usually they don’t bother to show up and, when they do, they can often be found heckling and shouting abuse across the chamber.

This may not be such a scandal if they weren't gaining such huge benefits from being our main representation in Europe – but the scary part is that they receive millions of pounds each year in salaries and funding for their group in the parliament. That was why Ukip were so panicked last month when their EFDD group nearly collapsed; they would have lost an estimated £1m. They did manage to save their group in the end – but only by welcoming an MEP into their group who has been labelled a racist and a holocaust denier.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Ukip MEPs aren’t the right people to represent our interests in Europe. On most key issues you would be hard pushed to quote any Ukip achievements. For example, 80 per cent of environmental legislation in the UK comes from the EU – most of it providing many benefits to the environment, but more often than not Ukip MEPs have opposed such moves. Many of our workplace and social protections also come from Europe, again, no thanks to work done by Ukip.

The vote of confidence in team Juncker may be a successful attempt by Ukip to position themselves as the anti-establishment party in the media, but as Owen Jones pointed out this week, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ukip are the embodiment of corporate interests and they really don’t care about cracking down on tax avoidance.

Are Ukip prepared to take on the powerful vested interests in the City? And are they prepared to consider supporting Green proposals on tackling the scourge of tax evasion including enforcement of existing tax legislation and increased transparency including a minimum rate for corporation tax.

Based on their behaviour so far in Europe, I wouldn’t hold my breath in waiting for them.

On these issues, my Green colleagues and I have been leading the way. And in response to the Luxleaks issue we have developed a proposal to take concrete action. We are calling for the establishment of a committee to carry out a robust inquiry into tax evasion and dumping, not just related to Juncker, but across the EU and beyond.

Sacking the entire Commission irrespective of each individuals’ involvement in the scandal may hit the headlines, but it would do nothing to tackle the deeper issue of tax avoidance which has plagued the EU for far too long.

Keith Taylor is the Green MEP for South East England

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.