The political journalist Mehdi Hasan, writing in the Huffington Post today, has offered a list of nineteen questions that he believes the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, should ask the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, during their two upcoming European debates, the first of which is going to be broadcast on LBC this evening and the second on BBC2 in a week's time.
Now leaving aside that Huffington Post is renowned for promoting advocacy journalism at its very worst, so you can virtually guarantee that any article featured in the "Huff" will have a pre-determined liberal slant, most of the vitally important questions suggested by Mr Hasan, for Mr Clegg to ask, are little more than a reflection of the personal antipathy that the journalist obviously feels for UKIP generally and Mr Farage specifically. Rather than being designed to elicit useful information for the listener, or the viewer, about the thorny issue of our European membership, so that voters might be able to make an informed decision on the matter, at some point in the future, Mr Hasan is obviously hoping that Mr Farage is both naive enough and reckless enough to fall into the fairly obvious traps that many of the questions clearly represent.
Even though Mr Hasan is not highly regarded by the author of this blog, who simply cannot understand the level of authority seemingly attached to his political views by the likes of the BBC and the Huffington Post, in order to ensure that this particular journalist is in no way misrepresented, the questions he has suggested Nick Clegg asks are reproduced in full below, along with our own response to the individual points raised. Obviously our responses to Mr Hasan's points are entirely our own and do not represent any official UKIP position, but as a regular British voter with more than a passing interest in the subject, no more, no less, then these responses are simply offered by way of another informed opinion, so people make of them what they will.
1) You say that half of British businesses would support quitting the EU - the Institute of Directors (IoD), however, polled its members and found only 15% back the UK leaving the EU. Why should we believe you, and not the IoD?
Before looking at the specific figures used by Mehdi Hasan, it is perhaps worth pointing out that the Institute of Directors claim to represent 34,500 businesses within the UK, including individual entrepreneurs, SME's, as well as Public Sector and Multinational organisations. However, there are thought to be an estimated 4.9 million businesses operating in the UK at any one time, so any suggestion that the IoD speaks for the entire British business community is entirely false; and in fact it is probably truer to say that they actually represent the interests of those much larger companies, which due to their sheer size and operational reach, are less affected by the negative effects of EU membership.
As to the numbers quoted by Mr Hasan specifically, the 15% he refers to, who would back the UK leaving the EU formed part of a poll carried out in 2013, which saw 1300 members of the IoD asked for their views. Of that number, some 57%, or more than half were in favour of David Cameron attempting to renegotiate Britain's terms of its EU membership, something that the EU has proved itself reluctant to do thus far. A similar poll of 1,000 IoD members conducted in 2011, found that 63% of business respondents were in favour of a much looser relationship with Europe, with the word "major" being used to described the changes that they would prefer, as opposed to "minor" changes, or indeed "tinkering around the edges", which is almost certainly all that David Cameron can expect from his European counterparts. Clearly, with no meaningful EU renegotiations having taken place thus far; and the likelihood of any major changes being agreed seeming to be remote at best, it is therefore open to question just how those same IoD members might choose to vote once renegotiation was "off the table", once and for all, so to speak.
2) Isn't it true that the number of European migrants in the UK (2.3million) is almost exactly balanced by the number of Britons living elsewhere in the EU (2.2million)?
It is difficult to know whether or not Mehdi Hasan is being deliberately obtuse or not in making this specific point, as he should well know that the position of existing EU migrants, both British and European, living in other member states would inevitably form part of the formal discussions that would take place between the UK and its former fellow members. EU migration specifically has never been a central plank of UKIP's overall migration policy, only migration generally, whether that be from Europe, from the Commonwealth, from Asia, or indeed from North America.
Despite how he attempts to frame the argument, Mr Hasan knows full well that UKIP has highlighted European migration simply because, through virtue of our country's current EU membership, we cannot refuse to allow any and all EU citizens free access through our national borders, unlike migrants from elsewhere in the world. It has always been UKIP's basic argument that an estimated 400 million European citizens have the legal right to enter the UK, should they wish to do so. Time and time again, commentators like Mr Hasan have used this same argument to accuse UKIP of scaremongering for political advantage, when they have done nothing of the sort. UKIP have simply chosen to illustrate the absurdity of the EU's own open door migration policies, by clarifying the right of EU nationals to come and settle in Britain should they wish to do so. The fact that 397 million of them have chosen not to do so, should just be regarded as a blessing, or a lucky break for our country that's all.
3) What would you want to happen to the 2.2million Britons who live in the EU once we pull out? Forcible repatriation back here to the UK?
Much of this particular question has been answered in the last one, although it is perhaps worth making the point that for hundreds of years British citizens have travelled and settled the globe, without the need for a quid pro quo arrangement having previously been put in place. British citizens looking to settle elsewhere in the world, in places like Australia, New Zealand, North America, etc. are generally required to offer the host nation something that they need, whether that's money, investment, skills or knowledge, they simply cannot arrive en masse and expect to be granted residential status without comment. Yet here in Britain, we are expected to offer an open door immigration policy to anyone who purports to originate from the European Union without even the most basic checks being carried out. As has been previously mentioned, the ongoing status of European citizens already resident in the UK, as well as those British citizens living or working on the continent will undoubtedly play a part in any settlement that the UK and the EU come to, if and when the UK decides to withdraw from the European Union. It's fairly safe to assume however that if we end up swopping like for like then the UK will derive far more benefit from any such exchanges as the mostly affluent and highly skilled ex-pat community slowly but surely finds its way home to the UK.
4) The EU costs us, each and every one of us, 37p* per person, per day. Do you really think that's unaffordable? A little over half the cost of a Mars bar?
Once again Mr Hasan is being deliberately disingenuous with his facts, either that or he really does believe that the UK only pays its direct membership fees of around £53 million per day to the European Union, in which case he really shouldn't be posing these questions in the first place. According to at least three different news sources, The Huffington Post, the Telegraph and Open Europe, the financial costs to UK businesses because of EU over-regulation can amount to anything between £27.4 billion per year and £118 billion per year, depending on who choose to believe. As a rule, when confronted by such hugely differing figures, it is often best to just split the difference, as it's often the case that the true figure lies somewhere in the middle, due to most sources either under or over-reporting their calculations anyway. So if we assume a cost of around £50 billion in EU over-regulation to British business, then that would suddenly increase Mr Hasan's own figures by around eight-fold, which is around £2.50 per day, because after all business will not simply absorb those costs, in all likelihood they'll pass them on to their customers, which is us. The truth is of course that nobody knows for sure just how much our EU membership costs us every day, or every year, so to try and make an argument that it's the price of a Mars bar is quite frankly ridiculous. And let's face it, if an experienced journalist like Mr Hasan can't find the actual amount, then what chance do the rest of us have?
5) How much money have you personally claimed in expenses from the European Parliament, in addition to your salary? Is it really more than £2million?
Sadly, this is one of those questions where Mr Hasan openly displays his own personal political partiality, to the extent that most people would probably tell him to mind his own business. However, as this particular question has been hanging around for some time, here's my own thought on the subject. What Price Britain's Freedom?
6) If you're so worried about the EU 'gravy train' and 'value for money' in Brussels, why did a member of your party's NEC ask Ukip MEPs to divert £10,000 each from their European parliamentary allowances and salaries to Ukip headquarters?
Unfortunately, unlike the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is funded by the Trade Union Movement, the Conservative Party, which is funded by big business and the Liberal Democrat Party which is also funded by business, increasingly so since going into government, UKIP has very few large party donors to rely on, when it comes to funding its electoral campaigns and the day-to-day running of its political operations in the UK. A significant number of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MP's in the UK parliament already illicitly channel taxpayers money, from the expenses fund, into their own party's individual coffers, so the fact that UKIP require their own representatives to make a financial contribution to the costs of running the party's operations here in the UK, from their own personal monies, should surely be seen as a positive thing, rather than something to be ashamed about. After all, most of UKIP's MEP's would derive a direct benefit from the support that they receive in Britain, so why shouldn't they help underpin the costs of it?
7) Is it true that EU authorities have been asked to investigate whether Ukip staff in the UK are being paid with EU money, in breach of EU regulations? That's pretty embarrassing, isn't it?
If UKIP representatives are indeed operating within the letter and spirit of the law then they have nothing to fear from any investigation into their party practices. However, as this potential investigation is thought to have originated from a malicious complaint by one of the opposing parties in the European Parliament, one can only hope that their electoral practices are as rigorous as they ought to be, in the event that the EP authorities decide to carry out a thorough investigation into all of the various parties who sit there. Sadly, the inference from Mr Hasan appears to be that UKIP are guilty of something before they have even been investigated, tried or judged, which is perhaps the mark of a journalist who concerns himself with tittle-tattle and gossip, rather than cold hard facts.
8) How embarrassed were you personally when former Ukip MEP Tom Wise was jailed in 2009 for expenses fraud? Or when former Ukip MEP Ashley Mote was jailed for benefit fraud in 2004?
Probably as embarrassed as any other party leader would be when one of their elected representatives chooses to break the law, just ask David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband when their various colleagues were caught with their hands in the cookie jar during the Expenses Scandal!
9) You have spent the past year or so hyperventilating about the cost of 'benefit tourism' - yet reports produced by both the EU and the UK government suggest there really isn't an issue with so-called benefit tourism. What empirical evidence, if any, do you have to the contrary?
Mehdi Hasan states that reports produced by both the EU and the UK governments suggest that there isn't really an issue with is commonly called "benefit tourism". However, it is worth noting that the EU would hardly be pre-disposed to look at such a subject objectively, as the entire issue would bring into question one of the founding principles of the European Union, that of the free movement of people. In that sense the EU study was hardly the work of a truly impartial arbiter, as the statisticians at Migration Watch found when they studied the EU's own findings, the outcome of which can be seen here:
Additionally, other public sources, in this case a newspaper and an online blog have reviewed the issue of "economic tourism" and have issued their own findings on the subject, which are shown below:
10) Isn't it the case that migrants from the new EU countries have paid 30% more in taxes to the UK exchequer than they've taken out in benefits or public services?
Assuming that Mehdi Hasan's information is taken from the same CREAM report that he used to support his assertions regarding benefit tourism, then the more recent Migration Watch analysis of the subject is perhaps the best place to look for an informed rebuttal on the topic:
11) Which taxes would you have raised to replace the £5billion that migrants from eastern Europe are estimated to have contributed to our economy between 2004 and 2011?
It is interesting that most Europhiles seem to completely miss the point that had Eastern European workers NOT come to Britain, then their jobs would have been taken by other people, including our own native workforce. It is a complete fallacy to presume that the jobs undertaken by foreign workers could not or would not be done by British workers, assuming of course that employers would have been compelled to offer a fair days pay for a fair days work. By introducing an army of cheap foreign workers some of the main beneficiaries have been crop growers, farmers, gang-masters and employment agencies who have made their own living, off the backs of millions of low paid workers from abroad. Had they never been allowed into the country to begin with, it seems likely that farmers, crop growers and employment agencies would have had to offer higher rates of basic pay to attract British workers. So, although there may have been fewer of them, the amount of money generated by this smaller workforce could well have been equal to, if not greater than the stated £5 billion generated by the foreign workers. It is also worth pointing out that unlike their foreign counterparts, British workers would not have taken part or all of their earnings out of the country, as is the case with most European workers, therefore providing no direct benefit to the UK economy as a whole.
12) Why do you think it is that Ukip doesn't have any female MEPs?
As Mr Hasan knows full well, both Marta Andreasen and Nikki Sinclair started out as UKIP representatives, but because of their own personal issues made the decision to leave the party, decisions that will subsequently be tested in the forthcoming European Election in May this year. As it is there are plenty of female replacements waiting in the wings to fulfil the roles they abandoned, including the likes of Janice Atkinson, Louise Bours, Margot Parker, Jane Collins, along with parliamentary party colleagues like Diane James, Suzanne Evans, etc. so obviously no shortage of women wanting to represent the party, despite what the likes of Mr Hasan would like to think.
13) Could it be because, as former Ukip MEP Marta Andreasen once put it, you're an "anti-women.. dictator" whose view is that "women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom"?
Couldn't possibly comment on that, although it clearly says something about the journalist who is prepared to repeat such idle gossip and tittle-tattle.
14) You say you're party is mainstream and isn't on the far-right but you sit with the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group in the European Parliament, don't you? Doesn't it include representatives of the Danish People's Party, the True Finns Party and Italy's Lega Nord - all of them pretty far-right parties?
As far as one is aware the Danish People's Party, the True Finns and Lega Nord are all parties representing foreign constituents, so why would the British people be in the least bit interested in their particular policies and strategies. Were Mr Farage to start advocating any sort of extreme right wing measures or policies, one might imagine that the British people would rebuff his party at the election, but as the expression goes, politics makes for strange bedfellows; and so it would seem.
15) You're fellow co-chair of the EFD, the Lega Nord's Francesco Speroni, has described far-right terrorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik as someone whose "ideas are in defence of western civilisation" - why don't you take this opportunity tonight to distance yourself from him and his horrific remarks?
One imagines that Francesco Speroni's remarks are a matter for him and his party, unless of course, he was officially issuing the statement on behalf of the EFD as a group, which clearly doesn't appear to be the case. If Mr Farage was to start denouncing every other politician's remarks, he wouldn't have much time left to devote himself to the important matters at hand, the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. As it is, Mr Farage and his party are the only mainstream political party that has willingly proscribed members of other known right wing groups, preventing them from joining UKIP. Perhaps Mr Cameron, Clegg and Miliband would like to follow his lead in this?
16) On the subject of horrific remarks, do you support your colleague Gerard Batten's demand that British Muslims sign up to a special code of conduct, in which they promise not to be violent? He is, after all, your chief whip?
Being a party that promotes the idea of free speech, it goes without saying that that ideal should apply to most views and opinions, including the more sillier ones. He's no doubt entitled to say it, but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for it to become official party policy.
17) And do you share Batten's support for a ban on any new mosques across the whole of Europe?
Asked and answered already, one would have thought?
18) You often claim to speak for Joe Public - are you aware that the latest poll shows more Britons want to stay in the EU (41%) than leave (39%)?
A single skewed poll that purported to be a like for like comparison, when in fact it was nothing of the sort. As any good accountant or pollster will tell you, numbers can say anything that you want them to, especially if you slant the question, or skew the data.
19) What is it that you most object to about the UK's membership of the EU - the cheaper and safer flights; the cheaper and better phone calls; the cleaner beaches and action on climate change; the higher food safety standards; the tackling of cross-border crime; the single market; the 3million jobs; the 57 years of peace; the global influence?
Mr Hasan seems to believe that these things can only have been delivered through the EU, which is palpable nonsense. Virtually all of these things would have been delivered regardless of our membership, ostensibly through individual trading agreements, none of which would have required ever closer union and the federalisation of Europe's nation states. As for the 3 million jobs, will they be the same mythical jobs that the author of the report that the figure initially came has publicly denounced Nick Clegg for using them out of context? As for 57 years of peace, obviously Mr Hasan has never heard of NATO or the UN. Global influence? Britain's global influence has declined markedly since joining the EU, so this idea that the UK benefits from its membership of the EU on the world stage, is a complete fallacy, one that is constantly perpetuated by the likes of Mr Hasan and Mr Clegg because they're delusional enough to believe it. As for the overall benefits of the EU, in terms of security, global influence and preventing international disputes, just how did that Crimea crisis work out then? Oh I see!