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

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How austere will Philip Hammond be?

The Chancellor must choose between softening or abandoning George Osborne's approach in his Autumn Statement. 

After becoming Chancellor, Philip Hammond was swift to confirm that George Osborne's budget surplus target would be abandoned. The move was hailed by some as the beginning of a new era of fiscal policy - but it was more modest than it appeared. Rather than a statement of principle, the abandonment of the 2019-20 target was merely an acceptance of reality. In the absence of additional spending cuts or tax rises, it would inevitably be missed (as Osborne himself recognised following the EU referendum). The decision did not represent, as some suggested, "the end of austerity".

Ahead of his first Autumn Statement on 23 November, the defining choice facing Hammond is whether to make a more radical break. As a new Resolution Foundation report notes, the Chancellor could either delay the surplus target (the conservative option) or embrace an alternative goal. Were he to seek a current budget suplus, rather than an overall one (as Labour pledged at the last general election), Hammond would avoid the need for further austerity and give himself up to £17bn of headroom. This would allow him to borrow for investment and to provide support for the "just managing" families (as Theresa May calls them) who will be squeezed by the continuing benefits freeze.

Alternatively, should Hammond merely delay Osborne's surplus target by a year (to 2020-21), he would be forced to impose an additional £9bn of tax rises or spending cuts. Were he to reject any further fiscal tightening, a surplus would not be achieved until 2023-24 - too late to be politically relevant. 

The most logical option, as the Resolution Foundation concludes, is for Hammond to target a current surplus. But since entering office, both he and May have emphasised their continuing commitment to fiscal conservatism ("He talks about austerity – I call it living within our means," the latter told Jeremy Corbyn at her first PMQs). For Hammond to abandon the goal of the UK's first budget surplus since 2001-02 would be a defining moment. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.