UKIP’s Euro-Party decision

PoliticsatSurrey, Simon Usherwood |

This morning’s paper carried a story that first broke on Newsnight about UKIP’s decision to form a European party, the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe.

Much of the coverage has made a point of highlighting the reversal of position by the party since 2011, when there was an extensive internal consultation and vote by members. Certainly, to read some of the comments, not everyone has been happy about the change.

UKIP hasn’t released a formal briefing on this yet, but in exchanges with Gawain Towler, head of press, I have the following details.

On 1 September the National Executive voted on the formation of the party and its associated foundation: this was passed unanimously, “specifically not to fund UKIP – but to increase Eurosceptic presence in general” (to quote Towler). A message to this effect was published in the Independence News – the official  newsletter – and one letter of complaint has since been received by the Chairman.

The message included the following explanation to members:

“The NEC has given MEPs the choice if they wish to join a pan- European party or not. Most UKIP MEPs  have chosen to do so. If Eurosceptic MEPs do not take the funding which comes from taxpayers who are Eurosceptic, it would mean that the EU Federalist parties would receive even more money. We are happy to cooperate with other democratic parties across Europe to counter the wall of taxpayer-funded EU propaganda.”

Towler has also provided the this detail on who has specifically joined: “The NEC has approved the UKIP MEPs to join on an individual basis on the 1st August [sic] 2014.This is why some MEPs joined and some did not.” In the list provided, only Gerard Batten and Julia Reid have not joined (Reid abstained and Batten opposed), while David Coburn is reserving his position. “The others European partners are Peter Mach (observing member), Two Lithuanian MEPS, the Swedes, An independent Polish MP, two Dutch MPs from the VNL party (FOR the Netherlands) one MP form the Popular Belgian Party, one French MP from  Debout la France, one independent French MEP”

The decision to form the Euro-party appears to have been agreed at a European level at the start of the month, even as the Foundation had already been set up at the end of September. The Newsnight story looks to be based on the final EP paperwork.

The motor for this appears to be two-fold.

One is the stated aim of taking what funds are available to all parties in the European Parliament: the funds – c.£1.5m – will support work in strengthening research and production of campaigning materials. Given the continuing challenges of securing funding, this looks like an easy way to get money without too many strings.

However, it might be also worth reflecting on the timing of the decision, during the summertime discussions about the formation of new EP groups. That UKIP changed its mind in relatively short order suggests that the decision might have had something to do with encouraging other parties to join the EFDD. As the last stand-outs against the Euro-party model, EFDD would have been effectively denying members access to funding: recall that UKIP – for all its difficulties – is much better resourced than its EP allies.

Quite what the impact of the decision will be remains to be seen, but given the timeline provided so far, it looks unlikely that the more lurid headlines about splits will come to pass, especially if ADDE is able to maintain a minimal role in shaping its members (which looks very likely, given the experience of its equivalents). More interesting will be how it plays out with voters.