By Rebecca Taylor, Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament
and Petros Fassoulas, Chairman of the European Movement UK
This blog post was first published on www.euromove.blogactiv.eu
UKIP MEPs are infamous for being not just Britain's laziest members of the European Parliament, but among the laziest in Europe, as figures from VoteWatch and EP Committee minutes have shown (and the Mirror graphically exposed recently).
UKIP MEPs’ excuse for their lack of graft is that their job is to get the UK out of the EU and they don't need to bother with anything else, like actually representing their constituents’ interests in Brussels.
Of course if they were politicians of principle, they could refuse to take their seats after elected. But then they would forfeit their MEP salary and allowances, which they don't seem keen to do. In fact UKIP are on record as boasting about how much money their MEPs claim, for not doing their jobs properly. This not being enough, two UKIP MEPs were jailed for expense fraud and benefit fraud and last year two further UKIP MEPs were forced to repay nearly £40k to the European Parliament after being found to have used allowances improperly.
In addition, UKIP MEPs are far less transparent than MEPs from other UK parties, who publish their expenses on their websites and regularly update them (Rebecca Taylor’s can be found here).
Mr Farage was caught out by the BBC's Andrew Neil, when he was asked why he and his deputy Mr Nuttall had not published their expenses for 2 years despite promising to do so. Mr Farage was unable to produce a convincing response, saying instead that he was "very busy" and that he had "lost some receipts".
But what does Nigel Farage does while he is in Brussels, paid by British tax payers? Does he stand up for British interests? Does he work on legislation that will improve the life of his constituents? No, of course not, he spends his time not attending committee and not bothering to vote even when issues are important for the UK. European Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt famously accused Nigel Farage of being the EU's biggest waste of money. He has a point. Mr Farage has failed to attend 48% of Plenary votes, has never drafted a report and he is joint bottom when it comes to Parliamentary questions asked.
As the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is important for the fishing industry in the South East of England, the region Mr Farage represents, he has tried to make it look like he was doing something by "campaigning", which seemed to consist of sending out angry press releases. However, he has never bothered to take part in Fisheries Committee meetings and when mammoth cross-party efforts by centre-right, Socialist, Liberal and Green MEPs ensured an historic reform of the CFP, which will end overfishing and safeguard the future of the fishing industry in Europe, Mr Farage was nowhere to be found. He did not even bother to show up to the final fisheries committee final vote (which was very close) and he disappeared halfway through the plenary vote.
In fact, according to Committee minutes, he attended just one of 42 Fisheries Committee meetings between February 2010 and January 2013, when he resigned from all Committees. In fact UKIP MEPs have attended just 30% of Committee meetings.
Which is a real shame and huge waste. The real graft in Brussels is done in committee, so by skipping committee meetings UKIP miss the chance to exert any influence and help shape laws that affect their constituents. They claim that there is no point as they would be outvoted every time, which is patently ridiculous when key votes can (and often do) go one way or another with only a vote to spare.
Committee work requires an MEP to understand the proposal in question, meet with businesses, NGOs, pressure groups, ordinary citizens, trade unions, national government representatives etc. to hear their positions, develop amendments that will not only be workable, but will also get sufficient support from their political group as well as other MEPs, and keep track of the hundreds, sometimes thousands of other amendments. Doing all this properly is hard work and very time consuming, so no wonder UKIP MEPs prefer to prance round the UK making speeches to their followers and sending out angry press releases instead. Much easier!
UKIP's deputy leader Paul Nuttall MEP is a point in case. He is a Member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, but in nearly three years had attended only twice. According to figures by VoteWatch he is 736th (out of 753 MEPs) when it comes to Plenary sessions attended. He is joint bottom both for reports and opinions drafted (actually he hasn’t drafted a single one!).
This is again “out of principle”; he thinks his time would be better used elsewhere. Or he does until he realises he might get some bad publicity as happened recently.
The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee recently debated and voted on the EU tobacco directive, which included the regulation of e-cigarettes. Like-minded MEPs from several parties worked to table sensible amendments on e-cigarettes and it all came to head in the Committee vote.
Knowing that the key amendment on e-cigarettes required all the votes it could get and that Mr Nuttall never attends committee, e-cigarettes users (some of whom were Mr Nuttall’s constituents) were encouraged to contact his office. Some were ignored, some received the same generic e-mail response they had received several months previously, and at least one was told Mr Nuttall would not attend the tobacco directive vote.
They were dismayed and began complaining about him on Twitter. Then all of a sudden Mr Nuttall changed his mind and showed up at the Committee meeting (his 3rd visit in 3 years!), although he didn't bother to vote on many amendments.
This experience was a great opportunity for many voters to realise that while UKIP shout loudly, they do very little else. Many of them expressed surprise; UKIP like to portray themselves as standing up for "ordinary British people"; what they actually do is ignore the very people they claim to represent.
Needless to say, Mr Nuttall's constituents were left unimpressed, but at least they were able to compare the efforts to shape EU laws made by hard working LibDem MEPs (among others) with the blink and you'll miss it work done by UKIP MEPs.
Mr Nuttall’s attitude shows that UKIP MEPs are indeed lazy, but only when they think they can get away with it. They claim to be avoiding the hard graft of parliamentary committee work out of principle, but those principles are soon chucked by the wayside if they suspect they will get any bad publicity.
Put under a little scrutiny, especially by UK voters who are vocal, active on social media and in regular contact with broadcast media, and suddenly UKIP MEPs decide that attending EP Committees is not such a waste of time after all.
Time for a lot more scrutiny of UKIP!