Knowing that they are losing the support of public opinion back home, the new Brexit Party MEPs have decided to focus their efforts on denigrating, ridiculing and demonising the institution they chose to stand for.
Not for them the nitty-gritty work of actually scrutinising European policies or shaping European legislation on behalf of their constituents! Like their UKIP predecessors, when they do actually turn up, they spend more time in the bar than in the chamber, using the latter for the odd rant intended for YouTube rather than to influence the debate.
Anne Widdecombe used her first speech to compare Brexit to slaves being freed – a strange definition of slavery where the slaves volunteer to be enslaved, jointly vote on any decisions and are free to leave!
David Bull MEP went on social media to complain about the time it took him to get to Strasbourg with four changes of train, including one in Paris – hadn’t he realised that standing for an international parliament involves international travel? (Curiously, he started his journey in Ipswich, despite representing the North West – but then, a number of Brexit party MEPs don’t actually live in their constituencies.)
Another said that being ‘sworn in’ on Tuesday took 20 minutes and then, remarkably, that he had nothing else to do. That simply means he is not doing his job properly! As I and others tweeted, during one of the long sessions in the chamber, the seats on the far right of the chamber were empty for much of the week.
Yet another complained about “the EU” deciding to split the Parliament’s work between Brussels and Strasbourg, seemingly unaware that it is the Member States, not the EU institutions, which decide on the location of the Parliament. The Parliament itself would happily move to Brussels, but is bound by a decision brokered by the then British PM John Major at the Edinburgh summit in 1992. Giving more power to the Parliament to decide its own seat would soon solve the problem – but that would not fit the narrative of the Brexit party MEPs.
Annunziata Rees-Mogg – recently elected to the Parliament and which she nonetheless described as an “undemocratic talking shop” – ranted about MEPs being given an iPad. In most workplaces, employers provide equipment to support their staff; giving MEPs an iPad configured for Parliamentary work means they don’t need so many documents at Committee meetings, can table amendments without hassle and might even look up the odd fact – perhaps that is what alarmed her!
And how dare the European Parliament, in its opening ceremony, have some young musicians play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – a piece of music originally commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society in 1817, and used since 1972 as the European Anthem. The Brexit Party MEPs rudely stood up and turned their backs on the performers. Their justification? That in their opinion, only nations should have anthems (tell that to the Olympic Games, NATO, UEFA and countless others) so it’s justified to be rude to young musicians!
Most other MEPs just shrugged and thought “what a bunch of prats”. One twitter account labelled it “Backgammon”. But many of us remembered from history that this is what the first Nazi MPs elected to the German Parliament did in 1927.
Another of their supposed leading lights tweeted that it was a disgrace that the European Parliament has no vote on the President of the Commission. Yet, even with just a basic awareness of the powers of the institution to which he sought election, he should know that to become President, the nominee has to secure the vote a majority of MEPs. And after a week in Strasbourg where that was one of the key points being discussed, he must have either locked himself in a cellar, or spent the whole week sozzled, not to know that Ursula Von Der Leyen’s fate lies in the hands of the Parliament. Or perhaps he intended to deliberately misinform?
[In fact, the procedure for choosing the Commission President is arguably more democratic than the procedure for choosing a British Prime Minister. Not that the neo-UKIP MEPs are interested in anything that departs from traditional British procedures. They were complaining about the electronic vote system that allows MEPs to vote speedily and efficiently without holding up proceedings for half an hour for a Commons style “division”.]
Mind you, consistency is not their strong point – when the Parliament did vote with paper votes and a ballot box to elect its own President, they complained that it was taking too long! Further, Ann Widdecombe complained of the “undemocratic” way in which Parliament elected its own President and Vice-Presidents – a one member one vote ballot!
But what understanding of democracy would we expect from them; unlike all other British political party leaders, Nigel Farage was not democratically elected within his own ‘party’ and cannot be removed!