My final speech in Strasbourg – Two-seat parliament a perfect metaphor for the hubris and futility of EU project

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The European parliament: an apology

“Signing the retirement documents in the European parliament with Secretary-General Klaus Welle on May 31st”.

I find myself in the rather unusual position of having to offer an apology to the European parliament, following the Guardian story “MEP resigns amid investigation into alleged misuse of funds”  on June 13th.

Just to re-cap, the parliament approached me some months ago with questions about the work of two of my UK staffers, and asked for evidence that they had in fact done the work for which they were payed.  The parliament is of course perfectly entitled to ask such questions, though I must admit that I felt somewhat offended that they felt the need to do so.

I submitted substantial dossiers of evidence of work done in both cases.  A few weeks ago I heard that they had cleared the case of my Press Officer Nick Tite, but I continued to await the outcome on the other case, Paul Oakden.  On reading the Guardian story, and indeed the story in the Metro,  I naturally assumed that the parliament had decided against the case of Paul Oakden, that there would be a letter to me to that effect in the system, and that a copy had been leaked in advance to the Guardian and formed the basis of their story.

I was away from home from June 13th to 22nd, and expected to find the parliament letter on my return.  But it was not there.  Further enquiries showed that the parliament had indeed reviewed the dossier I had provided, that the Secretary-General Klaus Welle had referred it to the parliament Legal Services, and that they had reported back to the Sec-Gen on June 19th – nearly a week after the Guardian report.

I should have been surprised if the parliament had reached a negative conclusion, because the evidence I had submitted was substantial and incontrovertible.  It included, for example, hard copy evidence of 800+ phone and e-mail contacts between me and Paul Oakden in 2016.  Given that Paul was contracted to work on a half-time basis for me, that amounts to an average of at least seven contacts per working day.  This would be an inconceivable level had we not been working together on an intense and continuous basis.

I should have been surprised if a negative letter had been leaked, but not too surprised.  On the one hand, the parliament is engaged in hostile and politically-motivated “investigations” into a number of Eurosceptic MEPs.  It is judge, jury and executioner in its own cause, and it has little sympathy for those who oppose the EU project.  It also has form in leaking letters to the press before the individuals concerned know what is going on.  I suppose it is just conceivable that a draft letter had been prepared in the parliament, and leaked to the Guardian, before the Sec-Gen’s final decision – but it seems unlikely.

So I am forced to the conclusion that the Guardian, in a fit of malice and opportunism, took the story of my retirement and chose to conflate it with the months-old story that that the parliament had launched an investigation into my staff, with the objective of implying that I was leaving the parliament as a result of the investigation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As I have explained elsewhere, I had been pondering retirement for years, I had decided last year to retire this year, and indeed I signed the relevant papers on May 31st this year, before the UK General Election and a fortnight before the Guardian story.

So my suggestion that the parliament had leaked a new letter to the Guardian in June appears to be mistaken, and I apologise for the misunderstanding.

While the Guardian was careful to put the quote marks in the right place, and talk about “alleged” misuse of funds, the Metro was less careful.  Its front-page headline read UKIP MEP quits over “misuse of £100,000 of EU money”.  It has placed the quote marks so that the misuse of money is merely alleged, but the causal connection between the retirement and the financial allegations is asserted as fact.  Of course it is no such thing.  The claim is false and defamatory.  I suspect the sub-editor who wrote the headline may come to regret it.

Meantime the flood of vitriol on social media continues.  Many media trolls are clearly no more than abusive idiots.  But I noticed that my Nottingham sparring partner Professor Michael Merrifield Tweeted a reference to my “retiring in disgrace”.  He should know better.  His comment is clearly actionable.  (Don’t worry, Michael – I’ll be happy to settle for an apology and a £5000 donation to the GWPF).

Of course I still await the final outcome, which should clear the case of Paul Oakden as it has cleared the case of Nick Tite.  If it does not, I shall certainly appeal, and if the appeal fails I will consider other avenues to clear my name.  In the course of a long career I have been criticised rightly or wrongly for many things, but I have always been scrupulously honest with money, and I am angry that between them the parliament and their friends in the media have chosen to air these false allegations just as I move on to a well-earned retirement.

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COP21 climate agreement: An eye-watering amount of money for virtually no return

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£100,000 mis-spent?

Today (June 14th) the Guardian carries a report that the European parliament proposes to demand £100,000 from me for staff expenses which were allegedly mis-spent.  Naturally I have had many media bids from journalists who want more information.  And I’ve had to tell them that in respect of this alleged demand for £100,000, I know no more than they do.  I have had no communication whatever from the parliament on the question.

This may seem surprising, but it is not the first time that some allegation of this type has emerged through a press leak, with no information from the parliament to the individuals concerned.  Indeed the parliament has a technique where it deliberately leaks speculative allegations to friendly journalists, and then uses the consequent media reports as a basis for a hostile enquiry.  This procedure is totally improper and prejudicial, but it seems to be common practice.

The Guardian also seeks to link the £100,000 story to my resignation.  But I signed resignation papers on May 31st, and my first inkling of the Guardian story was an e-mail yesterday morning from Jennifer Rankin, a Guardian journalist.  I immediately sent the Guardian e-mail to Klaus Welle, the parliament Secretary General, demanding an explanation, but so far I have no reply.

The story (such as it is) is a follows.  The parliament indicated to me at the turn of the year that it was concerned about payments to two of my UK staff – though it was not at all clear why they had such concerns.  Nonetheless, I prepared and submitted two very substantial dossiers of evidence supporting the work done by the employees.  After some time and several enquiries, I was able to establish that they had cleared one case, related to my regional Press Officer.

The other case relates to my Constituency Manager Paul Oakden.  Paul joined me shortly after I moved to UKIP in March 2012, and had been a hugely committed and effective Constituency Manager until his resignation in December last.  Initially he worked for me, or for me plus my regional colleague Margot Parker MEP.  In January 2015, Margot decided to make other arrangements, and I put Paul on a half-time contract, and reduced his salary accordingly by 50%.  Paul naturally decided to seek other employment for the remaining 50% of his time, and took a second half-time contract with another employer, as he was perfectly entitled to do under UK employment law.  The second contract was with UKIP.

Paul’s duties (for me) included running a busy office in Market Harborough, managing two or three administrative staff, dealing with or supervising correspondence with constituents, organisations, companies, pressure groups, charities and NGOs who phoned, or e-mailed, or visited the office in person.  He had overall responsibility for my UK diary and managed my events in the region.  He oversaw relations with the media and accompanied me on media meetings.  He and I had regular review meetings at weekends in the region, in Market Harborough or at the Costa Coffee Shop in Lutterworth.  He also occasionally accompanied me on overseas missions.  He was even my driver of last resort to get me to the airport when my car was in for service.

I do not issue my mobile phone number widely, but Paul’s number was on a notice board outside the office.  He was available to constituents 24/7.  He was also available to me 24/7.  Because of the nature of parliamentary work we often had to talk outside normal working hours, at anti-social times, and over weekends and so on.

In the dossier I presented to the parliament I provided hard-copy records of phone and e-mail exchanges during 2016.  These were incomplete.  The parliament’s own phone records, for example, only went back six months, while earlier parts of the e-mail record were no longer available.  Despite repeated efforts we have still been unable to obtain Paul’s phone records for 2016, and he frequently called me.  Yet despite these limitations, we identified around 830 proven contacts in the year.  There are typically around 240 working days in the year, and Paul was nominally working half-time (though I believe he did more than that).  But 50% of 240 days is 120 days, so we have hard evidence of an average of at least seven contacts every working day.  If the records were complete, I would expect the figure to be around ten contacts per working day.

Against this background, to suggest that Paul wasn’t working for me is simply risible.

An affront to natural justice: The problem, of course, is that the parliament is judge, jury and executioner in its own cause.  In a criminal case, the onus of proof is on the prosecution.  In a civil case, we deal with a balance of probabilities.  But in the European parliament, they demand proof beyond doubt that work was done – in other words, the rule is guilty until proven innocent.  Had I known that such an enquiry might arise, I might have required monthly reports and so on.  But I come from a business background, not a bureaucratic background.  Rather than pile up interminable reports, I prefer to hire good people and delegate.

There is an appeals procedure in the European parliament, but it amounts to little more than asking the same people who made the first decision to confirm it.  And the great majority of bodies in the parliament are dominated by pro-Europeans who would find against eurosceptics on an automatic ideological basis.  It may be time to consider other legal options.

 

 

 

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EU energy labelling: confusing consumers and creating problems for industry

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Five Live debate on Trump and the Climate Deal

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Discussing Donald Trump and the Climate Deal on the Stephen Nolan Show. Click here.

Just under three hours in.

 

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The IRA and ISIL

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There is a legitimate parallel to be drawn between the IRA and ISIL (or ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we’re calling it this week). Indeed I have cited the parallel myself.   We should be careful to recognise that while most IRA terrorists were Irish Catholics, they represented only a tiny percentage of the Irish Catholic community, most of whom rejected violence.  It was vitally important not to stereotype all Irish Catholics as terrorists.

The same is true of ISIL.  The great majority of British Muslims are decent law-abiding people, who are appalled by the violence in Manchester and more recently in London.  We can and must condemn the terrorists and their fellow-travellers while taking care not to stereotype the whole Muslim community.

But at one point the parallel breaks down.  The objective of the IRA was essentially political.  They were not fighting for their religion.  They were fighting for a united Ireland.  Now I personally reject that objective for a number of reasons – and I absolutely reject and repudiate the IRA’s abhorrent methods.  But I can at least recognise that Irish unification is a reasonable and legitimate objective for an Irish nationalist, provided it is pursued through a peaceful political process.

But this is not the case with ISIL.  Admittedly it is difficult to get a clear and coherent statement of ISIL’s objectives, and difficult to see how mowing down civilians with a hired van, or stabbing people at random, could serve such objectives.

However we can reasonably say that their objective is to impose their own Mediæval interpretation of Islam on the whole world, by force.  In the process they are happy to kill and torture and behead their opponents on an industrial scale  They will cheerfully kill any non-believer, but they are especially keen to kill apostates, blasphemers, Coptic Christians and homosexuals.  And they want to lock women into subservience to (Muslim) men, denying them their fundamental rights.

They want a global Caliphate.  This is not a political objective – or to the extent that it could be, it is not a legitimate political objective. It harks back to the early days of Islam, when it was imposed by fire and the sword.  In the case of the IRA, we could oppose the terrorists without setting ourselves against Catholicism.  But to oppose ISIL, we must be prepared to condemn not the Muslim faith as a whole, but at least this version of it – a version which is surreptitiously promoted in mosques and madrassas in the UK.

Earlier today I Tweeted: “It is quite wrong to stereotype all Muslims as terrorists. But it is equally wrong to deny that ISIL is inspired by Islam”.  In half an hour it had had forty re-Tweets and 4,000 views.  I’ve also taken the usual stick from the usual trolls, but I stand by the Tweet.

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