Bill Newton Dunn, the solitary Lib-Dem MEP in the East Midlands, stood as a Conservative in 1999 (having previously represented Lincolnshire as a Conservative for fifteen years). But after a year or so he defected to the Lib-Dems. East Midlands Conservatives well remember (and frequently remind me) that in his 1998 selection meeting in Nottingham, he deliberately misrepresented his views about the EU. Yes, he had been a Europhile. Yes, he had written a book entitled “Greater in Europe”. But he had had a change of heart. He was now fully committed to the Conservative position on the EU, and he backed William Hague’s opposition to the euro.
He was selected at #2 on the Conservative list, and duly elected in 1999. But he soon found that there were some real Conservatives with real Conservative views in our delegation. This proved too much for him, so he crossed the floor to join the Lib-Dems.
He never seems to have got over the fact that as a previously long-standing MEP, he was pipped at the post for pole position at that selection meeting by a relative unknown. He has mounted a long-running and vitriolic campaign against me personally, which suggests that he continues to harbour a smouldering resentment.
He has decided that my principled opposition to European integration is based not on my concerns about politics and economics, nor on my strong commitment to democracy, independence and self-government, but to the fact that I am (he says!) a closet religious fanatic. I am a non-conformist mole in the body politic. I am a stealth fundamentalist. Apparently the EU is “the last Satanic Empire”, and I am supposed to believe that the Deutsch Mark is “The Mark of the Beast”. Never mind that I regard the Deutsch Mark as one of the best things to come out of post-war Germany, or that I admired the financial probity which underpinned it, or that (like most Germans, as it happens) I greatly regret that Germany’s iconic currency was replaced by the euro.
I believe that a man’s religious beliefs are an entirely personal matter, and I have no obligation in the world to talk about mine. But as Bill has raised it, let’s clear the air.
I certainly have a cultural attachment to the Church of England, which is part of our national heritage. I go to (C of E) church occasionally. I have even been known to read the lesson at my local village church. I regard the King James Bible, along with Shakespeare, as the foundation of our English language and literature. I have even been known (shock, horror!) to watch Songs of Praise of a Sunday evening on BBC1, before getting stuck into the Antiques Road Show. But beyond that, I have no particular interest in religion, still less any inclination to religious extremism. Those who know me well find Bill’s accusations comical, but also a rather sad reflection on his state of mind.
But now he has opened a new front. He accuses me of saying that “all serious diseases are brought into Britain by foreigners”. He insists that he remembers this clearly, that it is a racist comment, and that he won’t let me forget it.
Now I don’t pretend to remember everything I have ever said in ten years in politics. But I can be sure that I did not say this, for two reasons:
1 It would be pejorative and divisive.
2 It is patently nonsense. No one could believe it, and so I certainly would not have said it.
What I may well have said, because it is no more than the simple truth, is that some groups of immigrants have significantly higher levels of some communicable diseases (notably TB and AIDS) than the general UK population. This is a well-established clinical fact, and a number of countries — Canada, US, Australia — wisely have systems of health checks on immigrants. Such checks are not racist. They are a common sense public health response to a recognised problem.
Bill keeps returning to the religion issue like a terrier to a bone, year after year, although I have set out my position for him several times. I am concerned that he is becoming increasingly obsessive and delusional on the issue.
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- My final speech in Strasbourg – Two-seat parliament a perfect metaphor for the hubris and futility of EU project
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