Nigel Farage is in his 17th year in the European Parliament, and he tells me he’s never seen anything like it. We’ve been deluged with emails, letters, phone calls and other messages about the proposed trade deal between the EU and the USA. At one point I had to respond to over a thousand emails in 24 hours. A lot of people reading this article will have already been in correspondence with me on the issue.
The Left of British politics have attacked this trade deal because of the huge power it would give to big corporations: as it stands American companies could compete for public sector contracts in the UK, companies would have immense power to sue national governments and big business, not small business, would benefit. They’re right to do so. Personally I’d be all for a genuine free trade agreement between the UK and the USA, expanding our markets, but not the ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)’. What’s being proposed isn’t a free trade agreement, but a corporatist trade agreement.
When this all came before the European Parliament and it became clear that there was massive public interest – largely unreported in the media – the Parliament’s President used an arcane procedural point to cancel the vote. That point could technically be used to cancel a vote on almost any matter with significant interest, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it used. The next morning, they cancelled the debate too.
Everything that’s wrong with TTIP is not an isolated instance, but a miniature glimpse into the workings of the European Union.
European Union public procurement rules already force UK government contracts to be put out to tender to foreign companies. The Private Finance Initiative (which was the driving force behind the part-privatisation of our NHS under Labour) was a product of that Labour government trying to get around EU rules on public spending. Ask yourself the question: does it even make sense that Labour Party, the Party of Aneurin Bevan, would have part-privatised our NHS voluntarily? Yet if our government fails to follow these rules, then we can be hauled over the coals and sued in the European Court of Justice.
There are over 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels, which is more than 40 lobbyists for every MEP – though I’m not interested in being lobbied by big business. I’m interested in being lobbied by my constituents. Corporate lobbyists push for tough new legislation, knowing that they can cope with it – whilst small businesses don’t have the resources and will be put out of business. I’m not interested in being wined and dined by them, or the free-flowing champagne which is on offer every night in the European Parliament buildings to those who are prepared to listen (or sell their soul?) to corporate lobbyists.
Democracy and the will of the people are routinely ignored: they force people to vote again until the ‘right’ referendum result is achieved, and the unelected Commission has far more power than the elected MEPs. Decisions are made behind closed doors and if – like Greek Prime Minister Papandreou – you dare to challenge the European Union on anything – you find yourself out of office very quickly. These are exactly the same problems as we have with TTIP, and worse, only they’re not just proposals – they’re going on right here and right now whilst we’re members of the European Union. This is why the ‘old’ Labour guard – people like Tony Benn – opposed the European Union. Sadly, that movement within Labour is just a shadow of its former self. Even if I disagreed with some of what they said, I respected where they came from. They truly cared about working people.
As a UKIP Member of the European Parliament, I take left-wing views on certain things – like helping working people to make an honest living – and right-wing views on others – for example I want tough action on crime. I oppose uncontrolled mass immigration from Europe (right-wing) for left-wing reasons. A massive oversupply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour drives wages down for British workers, which is great if you’re mega-rich and want to hire a nanny, but terrible if you’re a bricklayer, security guard or electrician.
Jonathan Arnott is Ukip MEP for the North East.