Sunday, 27 June 2004

Kilroy-Silk: Let's Get Out of Depressing Brussels

By Geoff Meade, European Editor, PA News in Brussels

Robert Kilroy-Silk stood in the heart of enemy territory today and vowed that he would “get our country back from Brussels”.

The newly-elected UK Independence Party Euro MP was in the vast glass and steel European Parliament headquarters in the Belgian capital for the first time.

And he made it quite clear he did not like what he saw.

“It’s depressing. When I went to Westminster it was exciting and invigorating. I was part of something that meant something to the British people. We felt we could change things, change the country, and we did.

“But here it’s anonymous, remote, distant – not in touch. I don’t feel it has any connection to me, to my constituents or to my country.”

Mr Kilroy-Silk was in town for just 24 hours with the rest of the triumphant UKIP MEPs, who quadrupled their presence in the European Parliament from three to 12 at the Euro elections earlier this month.

They will travel to Strasbourg for the first full meeting of the European Parliament next month.

But today they were on a brief familiarisation trip to the Parliament’s Brussels home, where UKIP’s offices will be to seek out political allies and sort out salaries and expenses.

The leader of the new 12-strong group, Nigel Farage – one of the original three UKIP MEPs for the past five years – said the funds from Brussels would be used, within the rules, to boost UKIP back home.

“We will use the money this place provides to fight back against these very institutions,” he declared.

Those funds will be boosted by the fact that the UKIP team will sit in Strasbourg as part of a bigger multi-national bloc of MEPs. That means extra cash for secretarial and administrative back-up.

“We are hoping to be part of a political group of 40 or more members, all Euro-sceptics, some of them reformers and others, like us, believing withdrawal is the best option,” said Mr Farage.

The group, likely to be confirmed next week, will include MEPs from about seven countries, including Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands.

At a press conference in UKIP’s new Brussels home, Mr Farage was asked what the name of the new political group would be.

Mr Kilroy-Silk immediately piped up: “The Out Of Europe Group, or something like that,” he suggested.

Amid the laughter Mr Farage said the final name would probably reflect democracy and the nation state.

Inevitably Mr Kilroy-Silk was asked about his post-election remark that UKIP’s goal was to “wreck” the European Parliament.

He said the aim was “to expose the way this place works, the remoteness, the bureaucracy and the corruption”.

Mr Kilroy-Silk went on: “I can’t believe the variety of targets available. I want to take that message back home, about how this place is encroaching on our sovereignty.”

He went on: “I was only elected to help Britain govern itself. Our prime task is to get our country back from Brussels. That is why we are here and for no other reason. We have no other function, no other purpose. We want to govern ourselves.”

Mr Kilroy-Silk acknowledged that some people were suggesting that UKIP’s European election success was just a “flash in the pan”. But he insisted: “We are not going to let that happen.”

Mr Kilroy-Silk said the British people had not had an opportunity since the 1975 referendum to voice their opinion about Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.

He hinted that more high profile support for UKIP and its campaign was on the cards and he said the group was already preparing its strategy for exposing the fact that the EU did not represent the British people. He said the party was getting the message across that the money the Government spent on EU membership – Mr Kilroy-Silk said it amounted to a net figure of £15 million a day – which the British public would rather see spent on hospitals and schools in Britain.

If they were given the chance to voice their opinion and chose to spend the money on EU contributions that would be fine, he said. But he knew that public opinion was behind UKIP.

Observing UKIP’s advance into Europe today was Paul Sykes, the millionaire businessman who funded UKIP’s Euro election campaign to the tune of £1.1m and who has donated generously to other political parties on an anti-EU platform.

He was no more impressed with the European Parliament building, saying that from what he had seen, it would be out of business within hours if it was a private company.

He said one problem which UKIP hoped to rectify was to inform the British people about what was going on.

“Over 80% of British people know next to zero about this thing that produces 60% of the laws that govern their lives,” he said.

UKIP’s head, Roger Knapman, said that as soon as he saw the glass and concrete “Tower of Babel” he knew that it was part of a project leading to a super state and not a club of nation states.

No-one seemed to have a good word to say about anything in the EU, until Mr Kilroy-Silk insisted: “I have great respect for the European Parliament. It is a democratic institution. If the French, Germans and others want it I don’t want to spoil their party or rain on their parade but we do not need to be part of it.

“We want to trade with Europe, be friends with Europe, we want to get Britain out of the EU in an amicable way because what we want is something called co-operation and you can achieve that without being governed by Europe.”

This article first appeared on The Scotsman