Sat 19 October 2019

Fighting the system while grabbing its perks – Otto English on the Brexit Party MEPs’ big day out in Brussels.

These are awkward times for newbie MEPs in the Brexit Party, who – having been democratically elected to the err….. (checks notes) unelected and unaccountable EU have been obliged to actually turn up for work.

The ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ conundrum has long been a difficult balancing act for Brexit-minded MEPs, defeating some of Britain’s very finest minds.

In the UKIP years, Nobel prize-winning, Wimbledon champion Paul Nuttall found it such a challenge that he eventually gave up going altogether and just took the £80,000 a year salary – hoping nobody would notice.

They were elected on a protest vote and it’s quite legitimate, in those circumstances, not to turn up. They don’t need to take the salaries either. They could simply hand them back.

But, these are early days for the Brexit Party gang and a nice day out in Brussels and the chance to sample some Chimay bleu was not to be missed. So, they cooked up a brilliant angle: go there, register and then claim they were doing it to ‘expose the EU gravy train’.

Now, what follows, is no defence of EU waste. It is a scandal that there remains little or no transparency regarding MEPs’ expenses. The ludicrous move between Brussels and Strasbourg once a month costs European taxpayers at least €109 million per year. The EU is imperfect and there are legitimate complaints to be made about the nature of the Parliament and the many MEPs who take advantage.

And it’s not just ‘other Europeans’ who are milking the system. Only last year one Nigel Farage had his salary docked after an EU parliamentary investigation found he had allegedly ‘misspent’ €40,000 of public funds.  

Curiously, the new Brexit Party MEPs were quiet about that one and focused on all the freebies instead.

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First up was Lance Forman MEP (real name Lance Anisfeld), former special adviser to Peter Lilley and CEO of H. Forman and son – purveyors of smoked salmon to the Houses of Parliament and Fortnum and Mason.

Lance has been furious with the EU for decades, even as he applied for EU Protected Geographical Indicator status (PGI) for his smoked fish business.

During his trip to Brussels, Lance was particularly miffed about the transportation situation telling his followers that there was “no need to take taxis in Brussels, if you’re an MEP. Thankfully the British taxpayer has paid for a nice fleet of Mercs and very charming drivers”. All this – as he posed next to a Skoda.

Forman was owned online, but, as each blow was landed, he doubled down.

Now, it is true that the EU Parliament provides cars for MEPs and other civil servants. I am told that those who do use them do so “mostly for security purposes”. But, the majority of EU parliamentarians use Brussels’ excellent public transport system, or their feet.

So, let’s hope Lance isn’t starting as he means to go on. Those cars aren’t free and, the less they’re used, the less there will be a need for the taxpayer to fund them.

They cooked up a brilliant angle: go there, register and then claim they were doing it to ‘expose the EU gravy train’.

Warming to the ‘gravy train’ theme, the Brexit Party put out one of its glossy little videos featuring Annunziata Rees-Mogg. Ms Rees-Mogg’s chief beef seemed to be that she had been given an electronic device.

Sharing the Brexit Party video on twitter she said: “I might watch this on my shiny new Ipad… given by the European Parliament for no particular reason.”

Now, the general idea when elected to a Parliament is that you represent your constituents and, to that effect, you are given the requisite office tools one might ordinarily expect in the 21st Century. But, perhaps Annunziata isn’t accustomed to the practices of a day at the office. Indeed, our own Westminster MPs are given Ipads and one can only guess that the carrier pigeons are down – or she could have checked this with her brother Jacob.

The same video featured former MP Ann Widdecombe. Ann was angry.

“Never ever complain ever about Westminster expenses,” she yelled at the camera “because compared to what goes on here our MPs turn up in hair shirts.”

Ann Widdecombe knows a thing or two about expenses. In 2009, while still an MP, it was revealed that she was spending a head-spinning £9,000 a year of them on newspaper cuttings – about herself. At one point, she was blowing £522 a month on the habit – for just 520 scraps of old newspaper.

Finally, there was Claire Fox – the former revolutionary communist – who was spotted riding to and from Brussels in Business Premier Class (approximately £500 return) and sampling the meal that came with it.

Claire had earlier been seen enjoying an alfresco lunch in the Brussels sunshine and, when challenged over the apparent contradictions between fighting the system and taking advantage of all its perks, had a bit of a meltdown.

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The good news for Claire, Lance and Annunziata is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Sinn Fein MPs have never taken their seats at Westminster because they don’t recognise it. Many of these Brexit Party MEPs are very rich individuals with flourishing careers and businesses and they are not being forced to attend the EU Parliament. They were elected on a protest vote and it’s quite legitimate, in those circumstances, not to turn up. They don’t need to take the salaries either. They could simply hand them back.

Which – to his immense credit – Richard Tice, co-chair of the Brexit Party has promised to do. Showing enormous integrity, Tice has pledged to donate his monthly earnings from the EU Parliament to small charities in the UK.

So, here’s a challenge to the other Brexit Party MEPs: instead of tying yourselves in knots, why not do the same?

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