Ukip received votes so that the EU could be shaken up. But the system means the party’s hands are tied

Complex structures in Brussels might be designed to minimise the impact of Nigel Farage

Share

The European Elections are done and dusted as far as the voters and most of the media are concerned. But for the MEPs the horse trading has only just started. Unlike Westminster elections, where the parties take their seats, the European Parliament is run by trans national groups formed according to strict guidelines.

We only hear about these groups occasionally, for example when the Conservatives broke away from the largest group in the Parliament, the EPP, to set up a more “Eurosceptic” group. Or when one of Ukip’s group members says something offensive about immigration.

But following these elections there has been an undercurrent of whispering running through Westminster as the party which topped the polls in the UK risks losing their group to the Tories in Brussels.

Long before he was leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, for whom I used to work as a media adviser, co-chaired his party’s group in the European Parliament. To us lay people, that might just sound like more meetings; in reality it resulted in the huge successes of his speeches in the Hemicycle which made him a big name.

“People will assume it’s about money,” Farage, who has spent much of his time since the May results in Brussels, told me. “But actually it’s about the infrastructure which comes with a Parliamentary group rather than being in the Non-Attached.

As a group leader for the last two parliamentary sessions I have been able to sit in the Conference of Presidents with the other group leaders, have a seat on the front row of the chamber, and reply directly to speakers addressing the European Parliament whilst they are still there to listen.”

Heady stuff.

But for the notoriously murky EU, being part of their official structure is much like having the right school tie in Westminster.

As Farage explains: “Having a secretariat is essential for keeping abreast of plans and changes in the Parliament. They mean MEPs know what is going on under the surface because as is so often the case with the EU, the decisions are made outside official meetings. And for MEPs back in the UK it has provided us with an office in London which means they can hold meetings and interviews, meet with constituents and organise events in the same country as the people they represent.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson asks Tony Blair to 'put a sock in it' over 'unhinged' comments on Iraq crisis

So why, given the importance of forming a group, has the veteran MEP found himself on the back foot? It comes down to a vote held some years ago by Ukip members on whether they should join pan-European parties. Even with Farage saying “Yes”, the “No” side won, thus stopping pre-2014 alliances from being built up outside the Parliament group and allowing other parties to form and new alliances to be built. Farage and his other MEPs could only look on helplessly.

By contrast, the Conservative MEPs joined the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists which, like other pan-European parties, has its own think tank, receiving funds to produce research and campaigns.

Its Secretary-General is the popular Tory MEP Dan Hannan, who was the main reason for the split from the pro-EU European People’s Party, and a key component of Hannan and his followers’ backing David Cameron for leadership of the party.

With his re-election a certainty, Hannan even spent time in the Euro campaign in Helsinki and Copenhagen rather than his South East constituency, laying the foundations for two key players in Ukip’s EFD group to jump ship.

But with so much up for grabs it’s not surprising that the fighting is getting bitter if not more akin to a girls’ school common room - with stories of some MEPs being told they needed to sign up to the Tory group “within days” or they might not be allowed in at all.

Despite Ukip and the Tories having very different views on membership of the EU, with the latter fully committed to UK membership, they are fighting for the same MEPs as bedfellows.

This is because most EU countries are way behind the UK when it comes to opinions on membership: it tends to be “In”, or “In but maybe with a few changes”. With the accession countries from 2004 fully signed up to the single currency and “ever closer union”, it is only the countries on the fringes of the continent which see where the majority of UK voters are coming from in wanting big change. There isn’t, therefore, a huge pool from which both Ukip and the Tories can fish from.

Farage has previously joined up with parties whose wish is to remain in the EU, despite being known throughout the continent for leading the anti-EU cause. Whereas the Tories - with their softly-softly approach, gently caressing promises of reform and a representative at the Council of Ministers - have more in common with the eurosceptic parties in these other countries.

It’s a system which is doing what it was designed to do: make it virtually impossible for there to be more than one group representing the “acceptable” face of euroscepticism in the European Parliament, and thus limiting their representation and influence on the Parliament as a whole.

The headlines following the European Elections were of a vote for a change of direction. So why then is Farage facing an uphill battle to form a new group? The answer lies with the other sceptic group who has seen the biggest increase in support from the latest ballot, which includes the ever controversial Front National.

This has stopped more libertarian parties from winning seats in the European Parliament who would have been natural colleagues for Ukip. But with Beppe Grillo’s Italian Five-Star movement voting overwhelmingly to join up with Ukip, will the hard work of the Tories be for nothing as eurosceptisicm gets charismatic figureheads from both the left and right?

Ukip rocked the establishment during the campaign. But with MEPs being collared by their own governments not to join up with the EU’s Public Enemy No. 1 it seems it’s not just the Westminster Establishment which Farage and Ukip has shaken.

My betting is that it will take more than a few coffees in foreign capitals to turn back the tide on the withdrawalist movement. Could the Westminster Village be truly beaten by “The Grillage People”?

NOW READ THIS:
Home truths: What George Osborne can't say about house prices...
Of course Blair won’t say Iraq was a mistake
Don't grin and bear it, girls!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A church in South Carolina burns after a fire breaks out on June 30, 2015  

America knows who has been burning black churches, but it refuses to say

Robert Lee Mitchell III
England's Jodie Taylor, left, and Jill Scott celebrate Taylor's goal against Canada during the first half in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup  

Women's World Cup: We should be able to praise England's Lionesses without shaming the men's team

Charlie Webster
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map