A tyrannical king once asked a wise man, ‘What shall I do for the betterment of our people?’
The wise man replied, ‘The best thing you could do for your people is to remain in bed until noon so that for this brief period you shall not afflict mankind’.
As the European Union juggernaut rolls on, sometimes it feels like all I can do as a member of the European Parliament is to try to stem the tide of new legislation which damages Britain’s interests and business.
This week, though, was slightly different. We were able to score a few minor victories which might actually help local people.
On the Budgetary Control committee, one of our group’s amendments (to stop EU subsidies for political parties).
It was my vote as Ukip that made the difference and we won by 14 to 13. As ever with the European Union, nothing is so simple. Not so long ago, MEPs voted to stop our taxes subsidising Spanish bullfights – but the subsidies still continue.
Likewise, this won’t stop millions of pounds of our taxes funding political parties but we’ve won the first battle in a much larger fight.
Later in the day, I had the privilege of voting on the proposed EU-USA trade deal known as TTIP. It wasn’t on my committee, but I was able to take the place of a colleague who couldn’t attend.
I’m all for free trade, but this proposed agreement has certain quite nasty features: the possibility for our public services (especially the NHS) to be opened up to private companies, and that it would allow private companies to sue national governments. They’re backing down about public services, but not about letting multinationals sue the government. The vote was surprisingly close: we lost that one by 17-22.
On Wednesday, in the Parliament I raised an issue which is affecting small businesses in the North East. EU rules which came in on January 1 now require businesses which trade with Europe to pay their VAT in the customer’s country. If you trade with Europe now, VAT is chargeable for 27 different countries – at rates of 25% in Sweden and 27% in Hungary.
Imagine, like some constituents who’ve written to me, that you run a small business which is below the VAT threshold.
You’ve always charged nothing in VAT, but overnight from January 1 the price – not only of the goods but postage too – goes up by 27%. Suddenly you’re uncompetitive and can’t afford to trade with Europe any more. I’ve asked questions to the Commission on this and raised the issue but got nowhere in the past.
On Wednesday I asked arch-europhile brussel (Belgium), one of the most influential federalists in the place, about this – and he admitted that we should look again at the regulations and exempt SMEs.
The devil though was in the detail: he conceded this only for digital and online services, which will do nothing to help, say, my constituent who sells vintage LPs in Europe.
It was an encouraging week, reminding me that – just once in a blue moon – it may actually be possible to curb the worst excesses of the European Union.
It reminds me that in Brussels and Strasbourg, I can make a difference. Whenever anyone repeats the old lie that ‘Ukip MEPs do no work’, it’s just not true: I have more speeches than any other British MEP of any Party, and the second-most Parliamentary questions of any British MEP.
My voting record in a Parliament in another country is higher than any of our North East MPs in Westminster.
But for every minor battle that we might be able to win, we lose another ten. Being a turkey voting for Christmas in the European Parliament is a thankless task at times.
One final, sobering thought. If we can win just one vote 14-13 in Committee, what are the chances of David Cameron managing to ‘reform’ the EU? He’d need Treaty change, and for that he would need to ‘win’ 28-0 – on far more fundamental issues - to get his proposals through.
So far, he hasn’t managed to remove one stroke of a pen from any EU legislation despite having had five years in office.
Talk of EU reform is a smokescreen: it’s been mentioned for 40 years but never once happened.
- Jonathan Arnott is Ukip Euro MP for the North East