Ashley Fox is the leader of Britain’s Conservative MEPs and an MEP for South West England.
While most eyes were on the campaign back here, your Conservative MEPs had to be over in Strasbourg last week, doing their bit for Britain. The session saw us move progressively from fending off misguided left-wing attacks to scoring series of political direct hits that laid bare Labour’s duplicity.
Labour’s opening salvo was that the nasty Conservatives were jeopardising road safety by voting against the compulsory introduction of a system called eCall in every new car.
The system automatically issues an alarm via the mobile phone network, along with details of location, in the event of a crash. It is intended to improve response times for emergency services, especially in remote areas.
However, the infrastructure alone to monitor the signals will cost a huge chunk of Britain’s limited road safety budget – and that will mean good lifesaving not being done elsewhere.
As my colleagues from the Single Market and Consumer Protection Committee, Vicky Ford and Daniel Dalton, pointed out, we will end up spending a fortune on measures that will not prevent a single crash.
The technology would also add to the cost of new cars themselves. At the same time, because Labour voted to deny drivers the option to switch eCall on and off, motorists would have an obligatory device under their bonnet capable of tracking their every journey, every change of speed, every turn or detour. The civil liberties group Big Brother Watch joined us in condemning this plan to put spy-in-the-car technology in every vehicle.
Labour’s next gambit was to suggest that because we refused to sign up for new EU legislation on plastic carrier bags we were ignorant of environmental issues and cavalier about the future of the planet. It was nonsense of course – and our sharp riposte was soon being picked up by fairer sections of the media.
We pointed out that the proposed legislation was badly flawed, and failed to tackle some of the key problems relating to people’s over-reliance on carriers. Julie Girling, our environment spokesman, said everyone wanted to cut down on use, but Labour and other MEPs had simply plucked ideas out of the air without any understanding of cost implications or whether results could be delivered.
Now, Labour’s leader had already disgraced himself on this issue by shamefully trying to pin blame on David Cameron’s Government for the tragic plight of refugees in North Africa and the horrific recent drownings in the Mediterranean.
Like the Foreign Office and indeed the whole Cabinet, my colleagues have been wrestling with the implications of this intractable problem for months and years. So we were disgusted by Miliband’s clumsy attempt to “weaponise” the issue for reasons of electoral expediency.
When the subject was debated in Strasbourg, however, our London colleague Syed Kamall, as chairman of the wider group of European Conservatives and Reformists in the Parliament, rose above the cheap point-scoring. His measured speech called for co-ordinated measures to stabilise the region, process applications, discourage people from making the journey, and target people traffickers. It was statesmanlike, sensible and dignified, in sharp contrast to Miliband’s shoddy opportunism.
EU Public Prosecutor
Next up was a vote on EU plans for a European public prosecutor. Outrageously, this would give a newly-created Brussels agency powers to mount criminal investigations in the UK.
Such an agency would have unique powers to investigate fraud against EU funds across all the member states. It could do so completely over the heads of the British police and Crown Prosecution Service.
So how did Labour’s MEPs and the sole Lib Dem voted? Yes, of course, they endorsed the whole scheme wholeheartedly – so we attacked.
Labour had been happy to kid the public in their manifesto that they would stand up for Britain in Europe, we pointed out. But clearly, were Miliband in power, the socialists would go down the same old road of handing over more and more power to the EU to over-ride our criminal justice system. Labour and the Liberal Democrats may want to hand Brussels a carte blanche to launch full-scale criminal inquiries on our soil, but Conservatives most certainly do not.
Then Labour really let slip their “say one thing then do another” approach to the EU and immigration.
Just days after Ed Miliband delivered an election pledge to get tough on immigration, his MEPs in Strasbourg voted for measures that would wreck Britain’s powers to control its own borders. They even voted against returning failed asylum seekers.
Timothy Kirkhope, our spokesman on justice and home affairs in the European Parliament, nailed Labour to the wall: “They talk tough at home then do the dirty over here,” he said.
“April 18: the man who would be their prime minister stands up on Merseyside and tries to portray Labour as tough on immigration, despite their track record. April 29: his MEPs put their hands up in Strasbourg to hand more power to Europe over how many migrants are sent to Britain.
“At least the Lib Dems make no secret of their feebleness. They are proud to hand control of our borders to Brussels. Labour try to kid you otherwise”.