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: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.