Risk, Hazard, and Food Security


“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” — Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare might just as well have said “must risk and hazard all he hath”, since (so far as I know) the two words meant more or less the same in his time — though he would scarcely have been guilty of tautology.

But today, thanks to the Health and Safety Commissars, the words seem to have taken on slightly separate meanings (please bear with me — this is important). A hazard is a substance (or a situation) which is dangerous in itself. But risk is the danger associated with the hazard in a particular situation, where the degree of danger may be mitigated by circumstance.

Take an example. Chlorine gas is dangerous stuff and clearly represents a hazard. Yet we cheerfully add it to the water in our swimming pools. Why? Because although chlorine remains a hazard, the risk it poses in proper solution in our swimming pools is minuscule. The risk from bacterial contamination in untreated water would be much more severe. So by chlorinating, we have replaced a significant risk with a very minor risk.

A key lesson here: the risk of using a “hazardous” substance must be weighed against the risk of not using it. Equally, the risk of using the substance must be weighed against the risk of using alternative products. There was the classic case of phthalates, used in polythene (in baby’s bottles, for example) as a softener. The EU banned the phthalates, which were then replaced with other chemicals whose risk profile was less well known.

So what has this to do with food security? Well the EU institutions are “off on one”, fired up by their “Precautionary Principle”, determined to ban plant protection products which are hazardous, despite the risks of using them in practice being very small indeed (their use is already heavily regulated), and with apparently no consideration of the implications of (A) Not using them; (B) Replacing them with other substances; (C) Promoting the import of crops which have been grown overseas — often using the very plant protection products we were worried about in the first place.

Over the years, the EU has banned a whole series of plant protection products, to the point where British agriculture has very few shots left in the locker — and there are real fears of pathogens developing resistance to the few that remain, as a result of over-use.

The impacts on agriculture are perverse. First, crop yields are reduced — sometimes by large percentages. Secondly, farming becomes less viable. Crops may no longer be grown, farms may close, farmers may leave the industry. The NFU has commissioned a study from Andersons on the effects of the loss of these vital products, and the impact of the new bans in the pipeline. They predict the following impacts:

• Little or no domestic production of key crops like frozen peas, fresh carrots, apples
• The Gross Value Added of UK agriculture cut by £1.6 billion (that’s 20% of the last five years average)
• Total UK farm income drops by £1.73 billion — that’s 36%
• 35 to 40,000 job losses

And after all that, we would merely be promoting the imports of crops grown abroad, using the very substances which we had sought to ban. This would be a major disaster, which would increase food prices, cut UK production, boost imports, worsen our Balance of Payments, and jeopardise our food security.

Sometimes people warn me that while many farmers sympathise with UKIP, they nevertheless want to stay in the EU for the sake of those CAP cheques. But of course UKIP understands that in a world of farm subsidies, British farmers need support payments to survive. We think a scheme designed in Britain for British farmers must be better than a scheme designed in Brussels for French farmers — and when we leave the EU, we’ll be better able to afford it.

But the farmers I meet don’t seem too keen on the EU. They mainly express serious concerns about the impact of EU rules. The banning of crop protection products. The “Three Crop Rule” (don’t ask). The form-filling and box-ticking on which those CAP cheques increasingly depend. It’s very clear to me that British farmers, like the rest of Britain, will be Better Off Out.

But don’t take my word for it. The Right Honourable Liz Truss is Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (no, that doesn’t mean Aga Sagas!). She says that EU rules are damaging British farmers.  And for once, she’s absolutely right.

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COOL: Country of Origin Labelling

close up of sausage and fork on white background with clipping path

Sometimes in the European parliament, an issue that seems on the face of it perfectly clear-cut turns out to be rather more complicated.  On Wednesday we voted on “COOL” – country-of-origin labelling for meat in processed foods.  Note that word “processed” – it comes up later.

Of course after the horsemeat and other scandals, consumers are quite rightly concerned to know where their food comes from.  If you ask them, 90% plus will say they want labelling.  And if you ask British farmers or the NFU, they’ll say the same – probably 100%.

So that’s easy then.  Open-and-shut case.  Please the voters and the farmers in one go.

But sadly it’s more complicated than that, and the fly in the ointment is that word “processed”.  Of course if we’re dealing with a primary meat product – steak from Argentina, or bacon from Denmark, or a chicken from Thailand – then it can and should be labelled with the country-of-origin.

But processed foods are different.  Let’s take a sausage.  It may have more than one type of meat – beef and pork, say, perhaps with some chicken as a filler.  If it’s a high-quality, high price product, the maker may well buy consistently from familiar sources, and labelling might be practical.  But for a cheaper product, the company’s buyer may well be watching the market and picking prices on a daily basis, getting a consignment of beef from Romania today and Somerset tomorrow and Bolivia next week.  And he’ll be making similar decisions on other days and other meats.

So in any one sausage on any one day, the meat used may come from many places – and will probably be different tomorrow.  The effect of this COOL legislation will be twofold:

Fist, merely adding a new labelling process involves more administration and cost (and inevitably more wasted packaging).  But secondly, it may be entirely impractical to continue buying best value on the day, so the average cost of the meat in the sausage will go up as well.  It’s a double whammy for prices.

And who suffers?  The poor.  The old.  The single mum on welfare struggling to feed the children.  These people may well be relying on those low-cost sausages to provide a square meal, and we’ve deliberately chosen to make them more expensive – and for some, unaffordable.  It’s back to bread and dripping.

This is a classic case where we should let the market decide.  If you want sausages with meat from a declared source, there will be supermarkets who will offer just that – at a price.  Or you could go to your high-street butcher, who will probably be able to tell you which field the beef was raised on.  But if price is your first criterion, and you’re less concerned about country of origin, that option should still be available.  We’ve voted in parliament to take that choice away.  We’re almost literally taking food out of the mouths of the poor.

So it was a tough decision.  Frankly, I wanted to vote against the whole thing.  But in a political party it is important to stick together as far as possible, and colleagues felt that the opinions of voters and farmers were the key factor, even though the voters may not have been in a position to think through the implications.  So I abstained.

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A good couple of days

I was in Brussels on Thursday morning (Feb 5th), and flew back in the afternoon. More or less immediately I was on my way to our East Midlands regional meeting, which this time was taking place at the Woodhouse Arms in Corby Glen, near Grantham.  I can vouch for the fact that they do great fish & chips.

I am also reliably informed that Corby Glen is in Lincolnshire, despite an NG postcode.

When I joined UKIP in 2012 there was a great deal of enthusiasm, but perhaps not too much organisation. So it is very gratifying to see the emerging professionalism of the party and the region today, as we approach the General Election, under the able regional chairmanship of Alan Graves — though to be fair I think most regions could tell a similar story. We had reports from Regional Organisers and County Reps, together with a very promising review of the appointment of candidates. We expect a full slate in the region for the General Election, and a very satisfactory rate for local candidates.

Roger with John Rackham and Douglas Carswell MP

Roger with John Rackham and Douglas Carswell MP

In one sense it’s got more difficult. It used to be easy to find “paper candidates” to ensure that at least we had a presence on the ballot paper, even in wards we had no hope of winning. But the progress of the Party is such that there are few such wards remaining. So the concept of a paper candidate is rather falling by the wayside.

On Friday I met Douglas Carswell at the Leicester Station mid-afternoon, and we set off on the forty-mile drive to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, where Douglas was to open the very smart new UKIP election office, the work of our  Mansfield candidate Sid Pepper.  We hadn’t fully taken account of the Friday afternoon traffic, so we arrived rather late, as the media pack were starting to shuffle their feet and considering whether to pack up. But we were just in time, and the report made the regional TV that evening. The Party is lucky to have Sid Pepper as a candidate. He’s a local man and well known and liked in the town. In addition to local support for the Party, Sid will pull in a significant personal vote.

Then back in the car, and down the A38 to Lichfield, where Douglas and I were to speak in the Guildhall in support of Lichfield candidate John Rackham. This was the evening when Nigel Farage ran into some little local difficulties with protesters and hooligans in Rotherham, and we’d seen rumours on social media of something similar in Lichfield. But in the end no trouble materialised, apart from a single Green in the meeting who appeared to think that the right to free speech included the right to shout over everyone else.

Candidate John Rackham is the long-standing landlord of the King’s Head, the oldest pub in Lichfield, dating from 1408. This is the very pub where the Staffordshire Regiment was first formed in 1705. Again, we are fortunate to have a candidate who is well known and well liked in the constituency. The splendid Guildhall, with its hammer-beam roof, gothic windows and stained glass, was packed for the event, which had been well publicised ahead of time by the local branch in leaflets and press advertising. We had upwards of 150 people in the packed hall. The level of interest and enthusiasm was heart-warming. Could the old parties fill that Guildhall for a public meeting? I suspect not.

John talked about local issues, and the opportunity for real change. I spoke about my specialist subject — energy — in the context of an example of “membership of the EU making us poorer”. And Douglas delivered a rousing key-note speech about the failure of the old parties to get a grip on the issues that really concern voters on the doorstep. The meeting was well-received.

I guess this is what it’s going to be like until May 7th. And in the wee small hours of May 8th, I suspect that the political establishment is in for some big surprises.

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Generalised abuse is no substitute for rational thought


Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of mindless abuse from Warmist Trolls on Twitter.  “The fact that we have ignoramuses like Roger Helmer representing us in parliament is a f***ing outrage.  It really is”.  Or “Please resign. I don’t want a moron representing me in the European parliament”.

Hang on guys.  You can disagree with me if you want – though you might be more credible if you could advance rational arguments in a courteous way.  But the fact is that I had a good grammar school education, and I got a State Scholarship and a Cambridge maths degree.  I think that’s good evidence against the “Moron and ignoramus” charges.

These people seem to think that blind adherence to the failing Warmist paradigm will (in the words of the Good Book) “be accounted unto them for righteousness”.  Sorry, guys, but it doesn’t work like that.  You don’t get too many Brownie Points for parroting what everyone else is saying.

They keep referring to “science”.  So OK, let’s talk science.  The classical scientific method involves postulating hypotheses, making predictions based on those hypotheses, and then testing predictions against observed data.  Climate “science” is largely based on highly complex computer models.  But the starting point for these models is a series of hypotheses, or assumptions, about how climate responds to various forcing factors.  And the outcome of the models is no more than a very sophisticated prediction, based on hypotheses and assumptions.

It is worth noting here that some of the assumptions underlying Warmism are implicit.  Indeed some have probably not even been recognised as assumptions by members of what we may call “the Warmist community”.  I return to one or two of those below.

But of course the Warmist trolls completely ignore the third stage of the scientific method – checking predictions and outcomes against observed data.  And when we look at the real data, we find that observed temperature trends fall far below the general run of alarmist predictions.  And we find satellite data showing no further warming for nearly two decades.

Self-respecting scientists will look at these data and conclude that there may well be problems with the hypotheses.  And frankly anyone who thinks that the primary determinant of global climate is an invisible, non-toxic trace gas which amounts to no more than 0.04% of the atmosphere, needs to think again.

Let’s look at those implicit assumptions.

Assumption #1: Human activity is causing the rise in atmospheric CO2.  Yes, atmospheric CO2 has risen from around 250 ppm to a current figure of 400 ppm over the last hundred years or so, at a time when the industrial revolution has gathered pace, and fossil fuel use has risen dramatically.  So human activity is the obvious cause – right?  Maybe not.  Let’s go back to Al Gore’s famous film, “An Inconvenient Truth”.  He points to changes in both global temperature and atmospheric CO2 levels over the last 600,000 years.  He establishes a clear correlation between the two data sets.  And he cries “Eureka! That proves it!  CO2 causes temperatures rises!”.

Of course it proves no such thing.  Correlation doesn’t prove causation.  And what Al Gore doesn’t mention is that if you look at the fine grain of the data, the temperature changes precede the CO2 changes by a few hundred years.  Any serious scientist looking at that would accept the correlation, but conclude that temperature was driving CO2.  Not, as Gore claims, CO2 driving temperature.

But this creates a major problem for Gore and the Warmists.  He can attempt to explain the most recent increase in CO2 levels as a result of man-made emissions.  But he offers no explanation for the CO2 fluctuations over the previous 600,000 years, when clearly they were not the result of human activity.  There were no industrial emissions or 4 x 4s or sports-utility vehicles.  Gore’s CO2 fluctuations remain a mystery.

Climate sceptics, on the other hand, have a complete explanation.  Changes in mean global temperatures are driven by long-term cyclical astronomical and solar effects.  These in turn drive CO2 changes.  Neither the temperature changes nor the CO2 fluctuations remain unexplained.

Over the last 10,000 years (and arguably much longer) there has been a roughly 1000-year cycle  in mean global temperatures.  It gave us the Holocene optima, the Minoan Optimum, the Roman Optimum, the Mediæval Warm Period, and it now seems to be delivering a new 21st Century Climate Optimum.  Note that recent warming seems to be part of a well-understood, long established natural climate cycle, and (applying Occam’s Razor) we need seek no other explanation.

But to resume: it could well be the case that the cyclical warming which for two hundred years has been bringing us out of the Little Ice Age is also the main driver of the observed increase in atmospheric CO2.  It may have relatively little to do with human activity, which in any case is only around 3% of the global carbon cycle.

But what about the mechanism?  How would temperature drive CO2?  Simple.  There is about fifty times the amount of CO2 dissolved in the oceans as there is in the atmosphere.  But the amount of CO2 that can be held in the oceans is temperature-dependent.  As oceans warm, the sea water cannot contain so much CO2 in solution.  So it ends up in the atmosphere.  Levels of atmospheric CO2 rise.  Conclusion: man-made emissions may well be no more than a minor factor in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Assumption #2: CO2 is the only significant driver of global temperature.  Yes, CO2 is a greenhouse gas.  But so is water vapour – and as long as the wind blows over the ocean, there is nothing we can do about that.  If we are to look at correlations (as Al Gore seems keen to do) there is a rather good long-term correlation between the sun and climate – and a rather poor correlation between CO2 and climate (see Fritz Vahrenholt “The Cold Sun“).  There is also strong emerging evidence that the solar magnetic field, closely linked to the sunspot cycle, has a powerful effect on the cosmic ray flux reaching the earth, and that this in turn affects cloud formation, albedo — and climate.  It is naïve to assume (as the IPCC does) that “It was the carbon dioxide wot dun it”.

Assumption #3: We can change the trend of CO2, and climate, with renewables.  No.  There are reportedly around 1200 new coal-fired power stations  in the global pipeline – and fossil fuels are becoming cheaper.  CO2 emissions will rise for decades whatever we do (and as noted above, may not be primarily driven by man-made emissions in the first place).  And intermittent renewables cost more, and save fewer emissions than the industry likes to claim.  This is because, through intermittency, they export inefficiency to the necessary fossil fuel back-up, which burns more gas (it’s usually gas), and emits more CO2 per megawatt than would be the case without intermittency.

But there is a more fundamental economic reason why our energy policies may do more harm than good.  Electricity prices across the EU are now around double the level of our major competitors (excluding Japan, which is a special case).  As a result, energy-intensive industries are moving offshore, taking their jobs and investment with them.  Often they go to jurisdictions with lower emissions standards, arguably increasing global emissions.  Brussels calls this “Carbon leakage”.  I call it economic suicide.

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UKIP: the only party with a rational energy policy


“Blowing my own Trumpet” circa 1961

As a teenager, I studied the trumpet, and played it (rather badly) in the School Orchestra.  Since then, I’ve tried to avoid blowing my own trumpet (or at least, not too hard!).  But I scored a small success in the last week of January, so please bear with me and let me tell you about it.

I frequently speak in the Industry & Energy Committee, ITRE, in Brussels, and on Monday Jan 26th I produced one of my better efforts.  It was two and a half minutes of a concise but rather aggressive critique of European energy policy — which is practically suicidal and is doing huge damage to European economies, and to the British economy.

I Tweeted it, and sent copies to my rather extensive list of contacts around the industry.  They liked it.  One association of intensive energy users circulated it to their members, and as a result, I found it was already being discussed in animated terms by CBI representatives at an automotive event I attended in Brux next day.  I was approached by an industry publication which has asked me for two articles on energy policy.

The speech was picked up on the Global Britain website, (which I cannot commend too highly for its excellent briefing papers on EU-related trade issues).  And to cap it all, I was nominated by The Freedom Association as their Parliamentarian of the Week.

There is a striking contrast between, on the one hand, (most) MEPs and the EU institutions, and on the other hand, industry.  The politicians are obsessed with climate hysteria, and with what they call “sustainability” (which is of course utterly unsustainable), while industry is focused on survival.  So while I am often in a minority in the parliament, it is gratifying to find that major industries largely agree with the UKIP energy policy which I have developed.  Indeed many on the industry side are prepared to say (privately at least) that UKIP is the only party with a rational energy policy.  (And when I say “industry”, I don’t mean fat-cat capitalists.  I mean growth and jobs and investment and exports and tax revenues and economic survival).

In politics, you need a thick skin.  You face a steady stream of slings and arrows.  So it’s good to get some positive feed-back, once in a while.

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“The smuggest, most supercilious man I know”


In Brussels, I am accustomed to being in a minority — although I am finding that in some circles, like the European Energy Forum and the Industry Committee, a refreshing draught of common sense is creeping in at the margins.  That is why we managed to vote down the efforts of the greens and the left to bring forward the utterly perverse “Market Stability Reserve” from 2021 to 2017.

Some colleagues seem to have woken up to the extent of the threat which climate alarmism poses to EU competitiveness.

I am not accustomed, however, to being in a minority of one.  Yet such was the case on Wednesday evening, when I attended a dinner meeting in Brux with UK MPs from the Climate Change Committee of the HoC.  There were five MPs, all passionate Warmists, and led by the notorious Tim Yeo, that bête noire of climate realists.

There were half a dozen MEPs, including three Labour MEPs; the last remaining Lib-Dem MEP Catherine Bearder; and a Tory who arrived late after speaking in Plenary.  And then there were half a dozen staffers from the Westminster Committee and from UKREP.  Warmists to a man (and woman).

But what amazed me most was the egregious rudeness of Tim Yeo.  I was frankly astonished.  After letting others put their position on the ETS/MSR , I made the case that the policy was perverse — that we were driving jobs and investment and industry out of the EU, and arguably increasing global emissions in the process – very much the case that I made on Monday 26th in ITRE.   And I made my remarks in a quiet, urbane and entirely reasonable way (honest).  I was much less forceful over dinner than I had been in Committee.

As I concluded my remarks, Yeo turned to the rest of the table and said “Now that we’ve heard that rant, let’s go back to the business of the evening”.  I must buy him a dictionary — he clearly is unfamiliar with the meaning of the word “rant”.

He was there as a guest in the European parliament, and as a guest, he had a duty of respect and courtesy — but those qualities seemed to be quite foreign to him.  I was forced to raise my voice and give him a little verbal chastisement.  He declared that he would show me no respect, because I had insulted him on social media (he said), and told lies about him.  I invited him to give an example of such a lie, but he was unable to do so, and merely harrumphed instead.

Neither was there any answer — either from Yeo or from the others — to the basic issues of what they call “carbon leakage”, and what I (and Antonio Tajani) call “an industrial massacre”.  The three Labour MEPs all claimed a trade union background, yet they seemed totally indifferent to the job losses — in hundreds of thousands — which EU policy is creating.

Not only rude, but ignorant.  Over an issue to do with smart meters, Tim Yeo came up with the extraordinary proposition that “UKIP is opposed to giving consumers a free choice”.  Since we’re a libertarian party fighting for an EU referendum (plus other referenda), his assertion is not only wrong, but wildly and absurdly wrong.  I hesitate to call it a lie, because it may have been a mistake — but if so it shows a remarkable degree of culpable ignorance.  If you’re going to tell lies about UKIP, Tim, you might at least try to make them half-credible, rather than spouting such obvious nonsense, and making yourself look like an idiot.

I mentioned these exchanges later to an MEP from Yeo’s own party, the Tories.  The reply? “He’s the smuggest, most supercilious man I know”.  No wonder his constituency party has de-selected him.

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Strasbourg Diary – that was the week that was


Here is a piece I was asked to do for the the EU Spectator which you might like to see.

Strasbourg Diary – January 12 to 15:

Monday. I leave the house around 11:30 to catch the 13:40 flight from Birmingham to Frankfurt. It’s delayed. I’ve tried changing planes at Paris or Brussels or Amsterdam, but you tend to lose your luggage. So now it’s an hour and a half to Frankfurt, then two and a half on the bus to Straz. It must be Europe’s least accessible parliament.

We have a very light programme this Straz week. By the time I arrive in the parliament around 8:00 p.m., the formal business in the Hemicycle is over. And there’s to be no voting at all on Wednesday. So why are we here? 750 MEPs and assorted staff going to Straz twelve times a year, costing around €200 million.

It’s a metaphor for the whole European project. Activity and conspicuous waste that no one can explain, no one can justify, and yet no one can change. It’s in the Treaties. Treaty change requires unanimity, and the French won’t agree. But all that money and effort does serve one useful purpose: it keeps our Gallic colleagues happy.

I’m greeted on the bus with a glossy leaflet declaring that Strasbourg is “The Seat. L’Eurométropole. The Spirit of Europe” (no less!). The City Fathers are desperate to keep the parliament coming, to keep the Travelling Circus Travelling. To keep the money flowing into their hotels and restaurants.

Tuesday 13th. At my desk at 7:30 after a bracing forty-minute walk from the hotel. The route ran through the old city, past the floodlit Cathedral. 9:00 in the Hemicycle: a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. 11:00 a.m. Voting meeting: how should we vote on the GM proposals? Not obvious. This was a second reading, so we could only vote on amendments, not on the whole package. And the amendments were en bloc. One appeared to return decisions to member-states, but several others confirmed increased powers for Brussels. With regret, we had to abstain.

12:30 votes. 2:00 p.m., Delegation Meeting (UKIP MEPs). 3:00, meeting with the European aluminium industry on the ETS Market Stability Reserve (don’t ask!). At 5:30 I chair the Group “Bureau” (Steering Committee). At six the full group meeting, addressed by the Five Star Movement’s Beppe Grillo. At 7:30, a European Energy Forum dinner-debate on the MSR. Leave the building around 10:30.

Wednesday 14th. Rain. Taxi to the office. This is the first time in fifteen years (so far as I remember) that there’s been no voting on the Wednesday of a Straz – the programme is so light. After coffee and a croissant, I meet a representative of the UK steel industry, who shares much the same concerns as the aluminium industry about ETS & MSR. Much of the morning spent on finalising my monthly newsletter (to go onto the list e-mail “newsletter” to roger.helmer@europarl.europa.eu). And working on my speech for our Spring Conference in February.

I then attend a lunch debate in the Member’s Salons, accompanied by my staffer Rachael, who’s down this week. The event is organised by the Kangaroo Group. I have a rare opportunity to raise a local constituents’ issue. Out speaker is Mr. Tor Eigel Hodne, CEO of the Norwegian electricity supply company Stattnett, which is involved in the Viking UK/Norway North Sea Interconnector.

I’ve worked with a residents’ group at Bicker Fen in Lincolnshire, who’ve suffered years of upheaval from a large wind-farm and sub-station, and are now threatened with the UK end of the interconnector, to add to the industrial character of once-pristine Lincolnshire fen.

But the good news (at least the way Mr. Hodne tells it) is that the landfall has been moved north to Blyth in Northumberland. Let’s hope that’s so.

I thought at first that this news was a reprieve for Bicker Fen. But it was not to be. I seems that there are two Interconnectors planned: one from Norway to Northumberland; the other from Denmark to Lincolnshire. The threat remains.

An afternoon spent on correspondence, phone calls and more polishing of the Conference speech before a reception for the opening of a Latvian architecture exhibition (I’ve been to Riga a number of times, and visited the Art Deco quarter). Then – an evening off.

Thursday 15th. I attend a meeting of the Animal Welfare Intergroup, dealing with “Alternatives to the surgical castration of piglets”. I am ashamed to admit that I found something rather comical about the title. But having seen a short video of the procedure involved, I can affirm that there’s nothing funny about it at all.

Then collect a sandwich from the Members’ Bar for lunch on the bus. Voting meeting at 11:30; votes at noon. A couple of well-meaning resolutions on international affairs: no substantive legislation. Bus to Frankfurt at 12:30. “That was the week that was”.

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