Steven Woolfe MEP
By Kevan James
Steven Woolfe has served as a Member of the European Parliament for the North West England region since the 2014 European election. He was considered a frontrunner in UKIP's 2016 leadership election, but was excluded from the race after submitting his nomination late. After Diane James resigned from the party leadership, he resigned from UKIP in October 2016, describing the party as ‘ungovernable’.
KJM: Are you currently sitting as an Independent MEP?
SW: Yes, I have been independent for almost three years.
KJM: When the UK leaves the EU on March 29, you will no longer be eligible to sit in the European Parliament; if the UK does not leave on that date, will you and other UK MEPs remain in position until it does?
SW: It is uncertain. The assumption is that if there were a delay of just two or three months after what is supposed to be Brexit Day on March 29, the current British MEPs would continue to sit in the European Parliament. Some speculation is around about the possibility of the delay being so long that the UK would have to take part in the coming European elections at the end of May, but if the government delays Brexit for that long, it is going to have far bigger problems than a rushed European election. I think it is unlikely to happen.
KJM: Given that the EU is seen as being profoundly undemocratic by so many, what does the European Parliament actually do? Does it have any real influence or does it merely ‘rubber-stamp’ decisions by the European Commission or other EU body?
SW: Kevan, the EU is not just seen as being undemocratic “by so many,” it is objectively and deliberately undemocratic. The way the EU is structured is to ensure it is near-immune to the ballot box. The executive, which is to say the Commission, is unelected. The Council, which is made up of heads of state and government, used to have some sort of democratic control by each nation’s head having a veto. Those vetoes were almost entirely taken away by the Lisbon Treaty. The parliament – well, nobody who has ever worked in the parliament can imagine it is in any way the voice of any “demos.”
KJM: There is, or appears to be, a growing ‘anti-EU’ sentiment developing elsewhere within EU member countries; in your view, is this going to continue?
SW: Of course there is a growing anti-EU sentiment. The EU and its political project the euro, have destroyed Greece, Italy, Spain. Its migration policies have destabilised the northern countries. Its tariff walls have made the EU the most expensive area on earth in which to live. Its politically-driven economic policies have created millions and millions of young people who have no hope of jobs.
This will continue, because the EU never listens to the people who suffer. The ruling class of the EU is entirely insulated from both votes and opinions.
KJM: The Withdrawal Agreement is ‘The Deal’ that everybody is so concerned about, yet it is only an agreement on how the UK leaves; no trade deal or other agreement has yet been made or even discussed. This was at the insistence of the EU, who said that they will not discuss trade until an withdrawal agreement was in place. Are those who say the UK should leave with ‘No Deal’ misleading the public when they say this or are they under the impression that ‘The Deal’ is one that covers everything, including trade and everything else (this is certainly what many people mistakenly think)?
SW: Just to correct that, Kevan. No trade deal or other trading relationship which will exist after Brexit has been discussed because that is how Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, to which alas, the UK agreed, works. The European Commission has no power under any of the European treaties to negotiate a trade deal with a member state – which is what we are until March 29. The day after, as far as treaty law goes, the Commission could start negotiations.
“The Deal” is just what the UK is locked into until a trade deal is negotiated. It is an appalling agreement. It keeps the UK tied to everything that is bad about EU membership, perhaps for many years, with no power whatsoever and no independent means of getting out.
KJM: Leaving the EU should, in theory at least, be relatively straightforward. Are the problems due to there actually being problems or more due to posturing by one side or the other, or both?
SW: We have been entangled in EU law, regulations and trade deals for 45 years. Getting out could never be straightforward, whether it is transport or pharmaceuticals.
KJM: Should UK MEPs have been more involved in those discussions and how would you have handled the negotiations?
SW: Under our Constitution, treaty negotiations and signing a treaty are the duty of the executive. The Commons can ratify, or refuse to ratify. But the negotiations belong to the Prime Minister and whatever team she wants with her.
KJM: There has been accusations from some within the Conservative party that it is being ‘infiltrated’ by former UKIP members; we have said on KJM Today that this is more likely due to former Tory members who left to go to UKIP, returning to the Conservatives. Do you agree?
SW: Conservative Home website this week ran an interesting and detailed analysis by Mark Wallace. The numbers show no sign of infiltration or de-selection. The charge simply seems to be a smear tossed out by disgruntled Tory MPs as they leave the party.
KJM: The freedom to change one’s mind, and thus party and/or political allegiance, is one of the most basic freedoms we have. Should MPs who ‘cross the floor’ remain as MPs for their new party or stand in by-elections, as Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless did?
SW: I think Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless were brave and principled to stand in by-elections. It is significant that none of the MPs who have recently left their parties for the so-called Independent Group has the same bravery or principles.
KJM: You suggested that you would like to stand against Anna Soubry in a by-election as a Conservative candidate but you are not currently a member of the party and it has already rejected an application from you. Will you apply again or would you stand as an ‘Independent Conservative’ or as an Independent? If so, would the newly-named Independent Group hold any attractions? Given their pro-EU viewpoint, why?
SW: The so-called Independent Group represents everything I oppose, so I’m surprised you ask if I would be attracted to it. What I want to do is express my conservative principles – note the small “c” in conservative – as a member of the Conservative party. The Independent Group and the MPs who will work with them form a threat to Brexit. Even if Brexit is accomplished, the purpose of the group is to reverse it. Only a solid number of Conservative MPs who support Brexit can protect the UK from that.
KJM: Given that there is a growing dissatisfaction with MPs generally, many people have suggested that they will not vote at all at the next general election. Should that be so then a minority of people will; this could mean that a minority party forms the next UK Government; does such a minority party really have a mandate to do so?
SW: Not voting is an opinion in itself. First, it tells all parties that they are not listening to the problems or principles of the voters. Second, it weakens whatever government does take over, leaving the government liable to end up in another election in which a more vigorous vote would take place.
KJM: Is the prospect of a minority party, or even one of the existing mainstream parties, elected by a minority of the voting population, a danger to democracy?
SW: No. If a majority choose to be indifferent to who governs them, that is their democratic choice.
KJM: Leaving aside the Independent Group, if people are not going to vote for the mainstream parties, should more people put themselves forward to stand as ‘Independent Conservatives’ or ‘Independent Labour’, or just as Independents?
SW: It is tough standing as an independent. Elections need plenty of supporters on the ground, pushing leaflets through doors, canvassing, working the social media. Money is needed for everything from printing to buses. Good luck to anyone who wants to stand as an independent. But parties exist for a reason, and the big parties win elections for a reason: electoral manpower and financial backing.
KJM: Would you encourage people to do so?
SW: If anyone is gutsy enough, go for it.
KJM: Should people spend some time, say twenty years or so, doing ordinary jobs, having the same everyday concerns as ordinary people, before standing for parliament rather than becoming MPs in early adulthood with little or no life experience?
SW: There should be no rule about it, the voters should decide who does or does not have enough of the right experience.
KJM: There is a perception that, within the UK generally, a bias has developed against older people. It is certainly true that there is now a substantial wedge between generations; this is something not found in most other countries, where the wisdom and experience of more mature members of society are valued. Do you think such a bias does exist in the UK and if so, why and what should be done about it?
SW: Yes, of course, there is a bias against older people. Part of that is natural and eternal: nobody aged 23 has ever looked at a 50-year old and thought, “One of us.” The rest is just bigotry and refusal to look at people as individuals and not as a date on a birth certificate. There is only a limited amount of this that can be solved by law. Certainly the reports of the NHS discriminating on treatment because of the age of the patient are shocking. That has to stop.
It is a myth to think other societies do it better. Certainly one understands the Chinese have more respect for older people, but wonders how much of that tradition exists today.
KJM: Steven Woolfe, thank you.