In October, I announced my intention to resign from the European Parliament on December 31. I was asked by our delegation leader Martin Callanan to postpone that date to January 20 to cover some key votes in Strasbourg in January, which I agreed to do. However, I have not yet signed the Parliament’s formal deed of resignation. I made it clear at the time that a key reason for my decision was my disillusionment with a wide range of Conservative policies – a view which has been strongly reinforced by David Cameron’s vocal backing for further fiscal integration in the EU.
I announced my resignation in the confident expectation (shared by just about everyone) that I would be replaced by the next-in-line on the 2009 Conservative East Midlands list, Rupert Matthews. Since the introduction of the regional list system of voting, there have been nine mid-term vacancies for UK MEPs, and on every occasion the seat has gone to the next available name on the list.
It has now emerged, however, that the Party has reservations over the succession. After the 2010 General Election, a large number of very good people, including Rupert, were taken off the Westminster candidates list. Because he is not currently on that list, the Party has referred his case to the Candidates’ Committee, which will require him to undergo a candidate panel. This is entirely wrong-headed. The Candidates’ Committee exists to pre-qualify names for future elections. It cannot retrospectively disqualify names from previous elections. Rupert was on the list at the relevant time, 2008.
He was duly selected under party rules, in a postal ballot by around three and a half thousand East Midlands Conservative Party members, as second on the list (subsequently moved to third under the positive discrimination process). He was then confirmed as next-in-line in the national euro elections of 2009. He has earned his place, he has a democratic mandate. It is outrageous that the Party should be minded to set aside the result of a national election, and many East Midlands Conservatives are very angry indeed.
The Party needs to issue a certificate in respect of such an appointment, and believes it can withhold the certificate in this case. But the Party’s right to withhold the certificate must be exercised fairly, proportionately and transparently. The certificate is intended to enable the Party to refuse someone who has (for example) been convicted of a serious offence, or who has left the Party. But where no such impediment exists, withholding the certificate would be arbitrary and perverse.
I have made it clear that I will not sign the formal resignation papers until the position is clarified and Rupert is confirmed. I was happy to resign in favour of the next-in-line in the normal way, but I am not prepared to stand aside for some A-List Cameron protégée from St. John’s Wood. However the Party says it will not call the panel and make the decision until I do resign. So we have a Mexican stand-off.
I think that both I and Rupert (and our respective families) are entitled to some certainty and resolution on the issue. Accordingly I have indicated to the Party Chairman that if the situation is not resolved within a few weeks, I shall withdraw my offer to resign. I am quite prepared, if necessary, to stay in place for the remaining two and a half years of my mandate until 2014. I have always argued that when a Conservative MEP is out of sympathy with Party policy, and unable to defend it, he should resign to make way for another Conservative. I believe that that is the decent and honourable thing to do, and I have sought to do it, but my intention has been frustrated by the Party’s reprehensible prevarication.
I have also made it clear to the Party Chairman that I believe that my obligations on this point have been fully and finally discharged by my offer, made in good faith, to resign. Accordingly, if I am obliged to stay in place until 2014, I shall feel no further sense of obligation or responsibility to the Party.