Interview with Jonathan Arnott (UKIP MEP for North East)

My second interview is with the former UKIP General Secretary, Jonathan Arnott, who explains what Brexit will mean for young people from a different point of view.

Were you surprised by the result of the EU referendum?

I was expecting a vote for Leave about 10 days before the referendum. The polls were starting to show a significant lead for Leave, and all the momentum was in our direction.

On the night, I was thinking that things might just have slipped the other way. I wasn’t seeing quite the same amazing reaction when out campaigning, and I was worried that people would get cold feet and vote to stick to the status quo.
When the first result was declared, in Newcastle, I became very confident. We expected to get 43-44% of the vote in Newcastle if the race was going to be close, but we got 49.3%. That was the point at which I started to believe we were most likely to win, although the bookies still expected us to lose at that point!

How will the result benefit young people?

I get questions like this a lot, and actually I don’t agree with the premise of the question too much. Not all young people are the same, and what’s good for a young person in the world of work may be very much different for what’s good for a young person at university, or a young person who’s just started a family.

It’s not possible to completely separate ‘young people’ from the rest of society in that way. I’m asked this a lot in terms of universities, where I think a fairer system – one which doesn’t discriminate between EU and international students, perhaps a little tougher for EU students and a bit less tough for non-EU students – might be a little fairer and less discriminatory.

I’ve seen young people looking for work who have struggled because of the unlimited immigration from the EU; that’s only the case in certain sectors, but if someone comes to the UK who is experienced, qualified and prepared to work here on minimum wage (because it is still a huge pay rise from their home country), then they are likely to get a job and it makes it harder for young people to get their first step on the career ladder.

But the bottom line, I think, is that Brexit will give us the chance to govern ourselves again. In one way it is reasonable to talk about ‘young people’ in general: young people are the future. A future after Brexit gives us the chance to develop our trade links with a wider world, to stop focusing on the 440 million citizens of the EU27 and to look at the 6.5+ billion across the rest of the world. The ability to shape our destiny is a powerful thing.


Now that Britain has left the ‘undemocratic’ EU, will UKIP campaign to reform the unelected House of Lords?

I have said many times that I believe we need electoral reform in this country. That means reforming the House of Lords to make it elected, introducing a fairer voting system in Westminster and more direct democracy. It means devolution of power as close as possible to the citizen. That’s pretty much a UKIP view, though maybe I feel more strongly about this than many other people in UKIP do.

Will we still have free healthcare abroad and freedom of movement now we’ve left the EU?

All of this depends on the deal which we negotiate with the EU.

We don’t have free healthcare abroad at the moment. For example, friends of mine were visiting Belgium when their son had an accident and broke his ankle. The medical treatment was very good, and they had the appropriate EHIC card, but they still received a medical bill for several hundreds of euros. Similar situations exist in other countries.
It’s a reciprocal arrangement which is good for the people of the UK. But we also have these kinds of arrangements with a number of other countries worldwide, from Serbia to Australia and New Zealand via Barbados.

I want the arrangement we have at the moment to continue, but of course Norway and Switzerland both have deals that include the healthcare agreement. So basically we’ll keep the healthcare arrangements if we either a) Remain in the EEA, b) Rejoin EFTA, or c) negotiate a reciprocal agreement with the EU.

As for freedom of movement, I want us to keep visa-free travel access to the EU (like we have with 100+ countries worldwide already). I don’t see that as being a problem, because it’s just as much in the EU’s interests for that to continue as it is in ours.

If you mean free movement of workers though, that’s a euphemism for unlimited immigration from the European Union. This has a negative effect in my view. Immigration is a good thing as long as it’s controlled, but the free movement of workers rule in the EU prevents that control. It leads to distortions in the market, and has a negative impact on jobs and causes wage compression in some unskilled and semi-skilled sectors.
I want to see us be able to control who comes to live and work here from the European Union. Whether that happens depends upon the deal that’s negotiated between us and the EU.

Will you stand as an MP after you’ve left your job as an MEP?

I haven’t decided yet, although it might be nice to sit in a proper Parliament! I think I’ll have to wait and see what happens.
When I say proper Parliament, the problem with the European Parliament is that MEPs have so little power: we’re really little more than an amending chamber. We don’t have the right to initiate legislation, speaking time is so strictly controlled that my microphone is often cut off after 60 seconds (some debates last as little as 5 minutes), and there are times when I’ve voted 1,000+ times in 3 days – how can anyone possibly be an expert in everything they’re voting on in a system like this?

Westminster has its faults, but they’re not a patch on the problems in Brussels/Strasbourg.


Which candidate for the Conservative leadership would you like to see negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU?

A difficult question to answer before we know who the candidates actually are, and I haven’t decided who I would prefer (I’m not a Conservative, so I don’t exactly have a vote or a vested interest), but here’s what I’m thinking so far. Not Boris. It’s just a gut feeling, but I’m not sure I’d trust him as PM. Grayling, Crabb and Hunt don’t exactly inspire me, Liam Fox is possible and would be a safe pair of hands maybe. Andrea Leadsom impressed on the TV debates and would be a possibility. I could see them perhaps choosing Theresa May as a unity candidate. She supported Remain but is quite critical of the European Union. If she gets the support from both sides of the party, she might well win.

Interview with Jude Kirton-Darling (Labour MEP for the North East)

As requested by a fan of the blog, I have completed an interview with a Labour MEP for the North East, Jude Kirton-Darling. I was interested to hear what the EU can offer young people, among other questions.

  • How important is it that young people take an interest in politics?

 “Extremely important, especially because no group has been hit harder by the UK government’s austerity cuts than they young. From the scrapping of Education Maintenance Allowance to the tripling of university fees; from the slashing of youth services and mental health provision for young people; from the planned cuts to housing benefit for 18-22-year-olds to proposed changes to Disability Living Allowance – young people are patently worse off than in 2010, and are now three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population. The government is able to implement such brutal policies because they know that – unlike pensioners and the wealthier members of society – young people are less likely to turn out to vote, and they will continue to do so as long as this is the case. It’s by turning up on election day and by speaking up when they disagree with the actions of politicians – for example by protesting or writing to their MPs and MEPs – that the young can make their voices heard and influence real political change.”

  • Why did you decide to become an MEP rather than an MP? 

“With 15 years working in the European trade union movement on employment rights and industrial policies, I thought that my experience and knowledge would best serve my home region as an MEP. I was asked to stand as a candidate and had not really thought about standing for political office before then.”

  • Do you think Britain should remain in the EU, and why? 

“Britain should absolutely stay in the EU, and this is particularly important for regions such as the North East. First, as the UK’s single biggest trading partner, the EU is crucial to creating jobs and allowing business to grow. The European single market provides access to 500 million European consumers and means that restrictions on trade, competition, services provision and the movement of workers have been removed. 3.5million British jobs are dependent on UK trade with the rest of the EU, with every household in Britain £3,000 better off as a result of our membership. Second, the North East is a net beneficiary of EU funds, receiving more EU funding than any other region in the UK. Third, the EU is responsible for some of the key social gains of the last half a century – thanks to our membership, British workers have the right to paid holiday, parental leave, protection from unfair dismissal and equal pay for men and women. Leaving the EU would leave us vulnerable to a government that is already seeking to withdraw permanently from these protections and which has mooted the idea of repealing the Human Rights Act. Finally, in an ever globalised world, the big challenges and questions facing the UK are the same as those facing our European neighbours – from climate change to the refugee crisis, to the trafficking of human beings and tax evasion by multinational companies. Common problems require common solutions, and this means pooling our collective forces and resources and combatting them as a united Union. The Paris attacks of 13th November show that terrorism is a global threat that has no regard for national boundaries: tackling it head-on requires a response that is equally international.”

  • What can the EU offer young people? 

“The EU offers many exciting opportunities to the young. The free movement of EU citizens, one of the founding principles of the Union, means that young Britons are able to travel, study, live and work in other member states without restriction or visa requirements – this creates boundless opportunities for young people in the UK. British youth can apply to be part of a new 14.7 billion euro program called Erasmus+, which is designed to improve skills and employability for Europe’s young generation, who have been hit hardest by economic recession. Running to 2020, the seven-year programme is designed to provide education, training, volunteering and sport opportunities overseas for 4 million Europeans. But one EU mechanism is particularly crucial for the North East’s young population, who suffer from the highest rates of youth unemployment in the UK, and I’m proud of it because I was part of the campaign to achieve it. The Youth Employment Initiative is a 6.3 billion euro programme for 2014-20 that will support young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) in EU regions with youth unemployment rates above 25%, and my home region of Tees Valley and County Durham unfortunately qualify as one of five British regions that qualify for a portion of the £17.87 million allocated to the UK. Durham County Council has put forward proposals to help 5,500 young people into work, training or education by providing individual guidance and support, tailored programmes to help vulnerable young people and creating of employment, apprenticeship, traineeship and work experience opportunities. Such an initiative has never been so needed in a county where 8,400 of those aged between 16 and 24 are currently out of work and 2,085 18-24 year olds are claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance.”

  • What effect would leaving the EU have on the North East? (Question from Charlie Gray) 

“As I said above, the North East benefits considerably from the EU, whose support and targeted funding are crucial to the region’s survival in a time of unprecedented public spending cuts. Pulling out of the EU would make trade in the North East a less lucrative and attractive prospect and it would jeopardise the up to 160,000 local jobs that rely on trade with our European neighbours. Thanks in no small part to our access to the European market several major international businesses, including Nissan and Hitachi, have established their UK headquarters in the North East – if we pull out of the EU they may be compelled to relocate. The North East Chamber of Commerce has found that 58% of North East businesses believe that leaving the EU would be a negative thing. Furthermore, many local projects rely on EU funding in the North East, including the Hartlepool Growth Hub, the Teesside Advanced Manufacturing Park, the Consett Business Park, the Vaux site redevelopment in Sunderland and The Core Building at Science Central in Newcastle. These projects support our communities and culture, encourage enterprise and innovation and are injecting life into a region disproportionately hit by government cuts and with the highest rates of unemployment in the country. Over the next five years the North East will receive £660 million worth of EU funds to support such projects – exiting the EU would strip them of this vital lifeline in the future and leave them struggling to survive.”

  • Along with Anna Turley and Tom Blenkinsop, you have been fighting to keep steel production in the EU open. During the mothballing of the SSI plant on Teesside UKIP said that the government couldn’t intervene due to EU legislation. Is this an example of the EU not allowing the UK to act in its own interests? (Question from Charlie Gray) 

“Not at all – it’s an example of how a lack of real knowledge about how the EU works can be used to misinform people and excuse our own government’s inaction in relation to the steel industry. Whilst it’s true that EU rules on state aid provision are strict, they are not unbendable: several precedents of state governments intervening in order to rescue key industries from certain collapse show that the European Commission is willing to grant exceptions. In Italy in 2015, for example, the Italian government effectively nationalised the Ilva plant in Taranto, by placing it under “extraordinary administration” after the owners were accused of failing to contain certain toxic emissions. France’s Socialist government in 2012, though it never went through with its warning, threatened “temporary nationalisation” at the Florange blast furnace in order to guarantee 629 jobs at risk. But perhaps the most obvious precedent of all is when EU governments including our own took the unprecedented step of bailing out the banks following the financial crash of 2008, at a cost of trillions of euros. Part of the problem on Teesside is that this government – unlike the Labour government in 2009 – have not properly mothballed the site which means that Redcar’s coke ovens and blast furnace have been irreparably damaged and would cost a fortune to get going again. It is simply not true for Conservative ministers to say they were without options when it comes to saving the SSI plant – the only thing they have lacked throughout is political will.”

  • Do you have any funny stories from your time in politics? 

“Many and some bizarre ones at that. Politicians are curious creatures in some respects and painfully human in other ways. Most things shouldn’t be repeated but one can – during the European election campaign, we received a cheque from an active supporter in a local business for our campaign funds. On the back of it, he had written “Don’t f*** it up!” This is the motto of our office!”

Jude Kirton-Darling

 

 

 

Interview with Richard Corbett (Deputy Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party)

I am grateful that the deputy leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party has been able to answer some questions for the blog. He is the second MEP I have interviewed.

  • How important is it that young people take an interest in politics?

“It is very important: politics shapes the future even more than the present, so young people will be the most affected of all.”

  • Why did you decide to join The Labour Party?

“I joined when I was 18 because I believe in a fairer society and I think that free markets need to be corrected in the public interest to give everybody a fair chance, to help the weakest in society and to protect consumers and the environment.”

  • What does your role as Deputy Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party involve?

“It means I replace the leader in various meetings when she cannot attend and I am also in charge of EPLP administration, staff matters and finance.”

  • Do you think Britain should remain in the EU, and why?

“Yes, for idealistic pragmatic and selfish reasons. See: http://www.richardcorbett.org.uk/what-europe-is-for/

  • Do you have any funny stories from your time in politics?

“Yes! See : http://www.richardcorbett.org.uk/fun/

richard corbett

Interview with Glenis Willmott: (Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party)

This is the first time I have interviewed an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) so I was intrigued to discover more about what the European Parliament is about. I was delighted to be able to ask questions to Labour’s European Parliamentary Leader, Glenis Willmott, and find out why she decided to become an MEP and hear her thoughts on whether Britain should leave the EU.

  • How important is it that young people take an interest in politics?

“I believe it is vital that young people take an interest, and hopefully an active role, in politics because we as politicians must represent people of all ages within our constituencies. Often, middle-aged and older residents are the most active in engaging with their politicians, for example by writing in, joining campaigns, requesting meetings, etc. If as many young people as possible took an interest in politics, then their voice would be heard loud and clear and politicians at all levels would have to debate their issues.”

  • Why did you decide to become an MEP rather than an MP?

“Before I became an MEP, I worked in the GMB trade union. During my time at the GMB, I saw how vital many of the protections for workers are and how many of them came directly from European legislation. The right to maternity leave, paid holiday, health and safety guidelines and many more of the workers’ rights we enjoy in Europe are down to the EU. For this reason, I wanted to stand for election as an MEP so that I could contribute to protecting those rights, strengthening them and bringing in new protections that are desperately needed.

I also believe that many of the problems facing us now and in the future, such as climate change, conservation terrorism and international crime, do not stop at national borders and it is therefore vital that we work together with our European neighbours to solve them. MEPs have a vital role to play in this too.”

  • What does your role as Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party involve?

“As the leader of the Labour Party’s 20 MEPs, I am responsible for representing their views and positions in negotiations within our parliamentary group, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (or S&D for short). Once a month, the leaders of each party’s MEPs, known as ‘heads of delegation’, come together to discuss what will soon be coming before the European Parliament. We try to work out a common position as well as any changes we want to make to proposed legislation. I then communicate with my group of Labour MEPs and we decide what stance we will be taking in light of these discussions.

Outside of the European Parliament, I also represent Labour’s MEPs in Westminster by attending Shadow Cabinet meetings. Here I can put across the views of our MEPs and how legislation and party policies could affect the EU as well as how EU legislation could affect the UK. I also deliver a speech at the Labour Party’s annual conference to outline what has been happening in the EU, how Labour MEPs are fighting for our values within the EU, and what is on the horizon such as the in/out referendum.”

Glenis-Willmott

  • Do you believe Britain should remain in the EU, and why?

“I strongly believe that the UK should stay in the EU and so I am campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum on our membership which will be held in 2016 or 2017. Apart from the benefits for workers’ rights that I outlined above, Britain also benefits enormously from being part of the world’s largest single market. The CBI recently estimated our membership to be worth around £3000 to each British household. We are undoubtedly more prosperous and open to trade by being in the EU.

Many British jobs are also dependent on our membership of the EU. There are international companies that invest in Britain because we are a gateway to the world’s largest single market. Some are already holding back investment as a result of the uncertainty caused by Cameron’s plans for a referendum. Pulling out the EU would risk hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs which would be catastrophic for our economy and future prosperity.

As I stated in my response to your second question, there are many issues which we all face across the EU that can be dealt with much more effectively through co-operation. This extends to some of the legislation I have worked on in the European Parliament such as new rules for clinical trials which will mean results from trials, whether they are successful or not, will be shared across the EU. This will reduce the likelihood of duplicate studies, increase opportunities for cross-border research and offer better safeguards for patient safety; something that would simply not be possible if the countries of Europe worked alone.

The EU also offers hard-won and vital protections for British consumers; for example, compensation can be claimed for delays when travelling by train, plane, bus or ship in the EU. There are also protections when buying goods and services from overseas, including a 14 day ‘cooling off’ period. The elimination of roaming charges next year is another victory for consumers over an unregulated market which is down to action at the EU level.

The EU also offers many benefits to our young people, such as the ERASMUS programme which allows British students to complete a year abroad without paying extra tuition fees. With shockingly high levels of youth unemployment in many EU countries such as Spain and Greece, the EU also offers nation governments extra funding for schemes to reduce this, known as a Youth Guarantee; unfortunately our government has consistently refused to implement one of these vital schemes.

In a globalised world with rapidly developing countries such as China, Russia, India and Brazil, Britain has a much stronger voice on the international stage as part of the EU. Many world leaders, such as President Obama, have stated that they hope Britain remains an EU member state.”

The European Parliament, Brussels
The European Parliament, Brussels