Sunday, March 11, 2007

EU's London Embassy plans creates new Tory split in Brussels

Reports in today'sSunday Times about the EU's plans to move its London operations into a huge new office have caused consernation amongst the Tory delegation of MEPs.
The story has an odd history. Gerard Batten, the UK Independence Party MEP for London first became aware of it on Thursday 1st of March, the day on which the Bureau of the European Parliament had an 'extraordinary' meeting to confirm their choice of 'Embassy'. There were a range of options and they decided (naturally) for the biggest, most expensive and best, 14 Tothill Street in Westminster. The building will house both the Commission and the Parliament's offices in London and is furnished with al mod cons, showers and so on. (With a Scandic running the office, in the extraordinarily tall form of Reijo Kemppinen, I wouldn't be surprised if they come up with a Sauna for the inmates.)
Anyhow Batten went to the press that day, but was knocked back. However the journalist then tried again the following week and spoke to Edward Macmillan Scott MEP, the Tory Vice-President of Parliament who sits on the bureau. Edward realising that a story might be in the offing told the Tory delegation meeting last Wednesday. At this point we have the Tory rebels getting annoyed as they discovered that their leadership had been aware ad had approved the plans in December without reference to the other MEPs, indeed without reference to any of the London MEPs, two out of the three signing a protest letter, Sayed Kemall and Charles Tannock. The letter is below,
"Dear Tim,

At the Conservative delegation meeting on Wednesday Edward McMillan Scott raised the issue of the new joint office that the Parliament and Commission are establishing on Tothill St in London. You admitted that you had viewed the proposed new premises but claimed that Dermot Scott had told you that you had no say in the actual decision.

It now transpires that the report to the Parliament bureau states that most of the UK delegation leaders have been consulted and are in agreement with this proposal. You have raised no objections when you had the opportunity in December to do so. This office is going to house over 50 staff and cost the European taxpayer £1.3 million a year in rental, despite Brussels only being 2 _ hours by train from London. Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrom's staff have apparently referred to the new premises as their "embassy" in London.

We cannot understand why you have not objected to this decision and have not consulted the Conservative bureau or delegation. It is completely at odds with our agenda of "reform" in Europe which includes obtaining value for money for the European taxpayer.

We urge you to immediately withdraw Conservative support from this proposal.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Callanan MEP
Giles Chichester MEP
Nirj Deva MEP
Den Dover MEP
Dan Hannan MEP
Chris Heaton-Harris MEP
Roger Helmer MEP
Syed Kamall MEP
Robert Sturdy MEP
David Sumberg MEP
Charles Tannock MEP
Geoffrey Van Orden MEP"

One of their number boasted to me about the startling intelligence that he had received about the London plans, over a week after UKIP had gone to the press. I think he was startled when I gave him many more details than those he knew, and more than has yet to be revealed to the rest of his delegation.

Of course the piece in the Sunday Times, though welcome, neglects some salient points. Firstly, it was UKIP that unearthed the story.
Secondly, the Parliament was supposed to consult with all British Political groups, but failed to mention this to UKIP.

I cannot blame the journalist in question, I know she did the work and had given credit where credit is due, however this being the Sunday Times, any reference to the work of UKIP is to be air-brushed out of the picture, after all, UKIP are not to be perceived as anything other than riven with splits, with a leadership that doesn't consult the membership and so on. Frankly I don't mind to much, wouldn't want to look like the Tories.


Anonymous said...

This story is really making a "mountain out of a molehill"!
The truth is that the EU has had two offices in London for some time - the parliament and the commission and the new building simply merges them into one place. Makes sense really.

Elaib said...

I am not denying that there may be some practical purpose behind the move. Indeed both the Queen Anne's Gate EP building and the Commission building are due to end their leases in 2008.
But, the Bureau lied in its documentation about consltation with all interested parties, (point one) and it chose the most expensive option, twice the size of its requirements (point two).
My guess is it failed to communicate with the UKIP delegation (despite the fact that UKIP beat the Lib Dems at the last Euro elections) because they knew that UKIP would make a fuss about the profligacy, and it picked the building (he closest Embassy to the House of Commons) in ordere to make very clear who is boss.