By Matthew Barrett
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Roger Helmer, a Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands region has written to the Chairman of the East Midlands Conservatives, Stephen Mold, to announce his resignation from the European Parliament. Mr Helmer has been an MEP since 1999 and is known for his staunchly Eurosceptic views.
Mr Helmer's letter says:
"I am writing to you now to advise you that I shall be resigning my seat in the European parliament effective December 31st this year.
As with any major decision, this is driven by a number of factors. Some might say that it is high time I stood aside for a younger man. For myself, I think that twelve-and-a-half years banging my head against the same brick wall in Brussels is perhaps long enough. And I should certainly like to see more of my three fine grandsons.
But it would be disingenuous to deny that my decision is dictated in part by my increasing disillusion with the attitudes of the Conservative Party. I am finding it ever more difficult to defend the policies of the Coalition, not only on my key issues of Europe, and of climate and energy, but on a range of other matters besides.
I will have more to say about this in coming days.
At this point I must express my thanks to all those, too numerous to mention individually, who have helped and supported me up and down the Region since 1999 – to the Party supporters and activists, and indeed the voters, who have three times selected me, and elected me, at the head of the East Midlands MEP list, as well as to all those who supported the successful “Reinstate Roger” campaign when I had the Party Whip temporarily withdrawn.
But some names I must mention. Three previous regional Chairmen, Nigel Cutts, Dudley Bryant and most recently Linda Kirk, have been hugely supportive, even though I have not always made life easy for them. I am grateful to David Surtees, who has been present in one rôle or another throughout my political career, and to Simon Richards of The Freedom Association who has been a trusty comrade-in-arms for many years.
I am especially grateful to Chris Heaton-Harris, who for ten years in the European parliament was the best colleague I could have hoped to have – and to the other members of “the H-Block”. And I should thank all those former staffers who have passed through my office, especially Sally McNamara and Cat Bray (both now in political roles in Washington) and Lydia Smith, just starting work in Westminster with Mark Lancaster MP.
I should also thank my current staffers Joe Bono and Neelam Cartmell, and of course my current East Midlands colleague Emma McClarkin MEP, for their help and support.
It is my understanding that my place will be taken automatically by Rupert Matthews, who was next-in-line on the 2009 Conservative list. Rupert is a very sound man indeed, and well known in the region, and I have absolute confidence that he will serve the voters of the East Midlands with great skill and diligence. He has been a good friend and colleague both to me and to Chris Heaton-Harris for many years, and we have worked together on a number of projects. Most recently, Rupert has edited and published my latest book “Sceptic at Large”.
I will no doubt be asked about my plans for retirement, but so far I have no plan beyond taking a long and well-earned rest.
Again, thank you for your help and support, and I wish you, and the region, all the best for the future."
9.30am Update: Rupert Matthews, who, as Mr Helmer writes above, will take the vacant seat, comments:
"Roger Helmer will be a tough act to follow. I first met Roger when we were both campaigning in the 1999 European Elections – he as a candidate and I as a Conservative Party activist. I recall I was with a team of volunteers preparing to go out delivering leaflets when Roger appeared and with a few words enthused us all to go out on to the pavements. Since then Roger has done a fine job of representing the East Midlands out in Brussels and Strasbourg. I hope to continue Roger's superb work of responding to the needs of East Midlands residents, businesses and communities, and to representing their interests in Brussels. It will be an honour to follow Roger in the task of battling the ever increasing federalism of the EU by representing the people of the East Midlands and the Conservative Party in the European Parliament."