Ukip MEPs are failing to engage with the political process. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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

GETTY
Show Hide image

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.