For the good of Europe, we need to #StopBorrell

According to Wikipedia, Josep Borrell Fontelles is a Spanish or Catalan politician (depending on which language you are reading in), member of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and, since June 2018, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation in the Spanish Government.

With a long and colourful career behind him, Borrell looks set to add another top job to his CV, as it was announced this week that he was the European Council’s choice for the role of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in the 2019-2024 European Commission.

The high representative is the head of the European Union’s diplomatic corps, the 28 member states’ collective representative on the world stage. Initially created in 1999 under the Treaty of Amsterdam, with an enlarged portfolio under the Treaty of Lisbon, Borrell is set to become the fourth person to hold the post, the second from the Iberian Peninsula, following in the footsteps of Spain’s Javier Solana (1999-2009), the UK’s Catherine Ashton (2009-2014) and the incumbent Federica Mogherini of Italy (2014-).

As Charlemagne notes in The Economist, “Borrell will be the most heavyweight figure to serve as high representative”, by implication adding to the prestige of the position. And yet, paradoxically, if the European Union is serious about listening to the popular impetus for change expressed in May’s elections, if they want to be taken seriously in global diplomatic circles, and if they are serious about cleaning their image, it is imperative Josep Borrell is not appointed to the role of high representative.

It is imperative we #StopBorrell

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Rehman Chishti backs vote to leave EU

Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti has today come out in favour of leaving the European Union.

Mr Chishti, who also represents Rainham Central on Medway Council, has spent the past few months “speak[ing] to many residents at my MP street surgeries … and I have considered all the correspondence I have received from constituents” in relation to the 23 June referendum.

After a considerable amount of time considering how to vote, Mr Chishti said today that “a clear majority of the views that I have heard were for leaving the EU. I respect that and on balance, after taking these views into account, I will be voting to leave the EU in the forthcoming referendum.”

The delay in learning Mr Chishti’s position on the matter has frustrated some journalists and commentators, and there are still a small number of Conservative MPs who are yet to publicly declare where they stand on what is the single biggest vote the UK will face for a generation.

In the 2015 General Election, UKIP’s Mark Hanson received over 9,000 votes in Mr Chishti’s constituency (representing one-fifth of all votes cast), but pressure from the Eurosceptic party ahead of the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner election earlier this month, where UKIP’s Henry Bolton received the most votes in Medway, could not push the MP into making an early decision.

Mr Chishti said “I have kept an open mind on whether we would be better off remaining in the European Union or that Britain would have a better future by going it alone. I have said from the outset that I would take into account the views of my constituents before making my final decision.”

According the Kent Messenger Group’s Political Editor, Paul Francis, there is still a (small) majority of Kent MPs who are backing the status quo:

EU kills menthol cigarettes

European Union Directive 2014/40/EU comes into effect in the UK tomorrow – and it’s bad news for smokers.

EU DIRECTIVE 2014/40/EU will come into force in the UK on Friday, bringing with it a total ban on the sale of flavoured cigarettes.

The EU Directive became The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, which was laid before the UK parliament on 22 April.

Article 7 of the EU Directive states that:

Member States shall prohibit the placing on the market of tobacco products with a characterising flavour

This is carried forward to Regulation 15 of the UK Regulations as:

No person may produce or supply cigarettes or hand rolling tobacco with a characterising flavour.

Article 2 of the EU Directive provides the killer definition:

‘characterising flavour’ means a clearly noticeable smell or taste other than one of tobacco, resulting from an additive or a combination of additives, including, but not limited to, fruit, spice, herbs, alcohol, candy, menthol or vanilla, which is noticeable before or during the consumption of the tobacco product

However, smokers of menthol cigarettes can breath a small sigh of relief – due to their immense popularity, menthol cigarettes are being treated as a special case and a four-year transition period is authorised by Regulation 56 (3):

The provisions of regulation 15 (flavoured cigarettes etc.) do not apply to menthol cigarettes until 20th May 2020.

EU nannying fussbucketry at its finest!

Government’s £9m EU referendum propaganda is a betrayal of trust

Her Majesty’s Government is to spend £9.3m of your money campaigning for the UK to remain a member of the European Union.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced last night that the British Government will spend £9.3m of taxpayers’ money on a targeted campaign to win June’s referendum on EU membership.

In a clear example of a broken promise, the Government is to spend £6m on a 16-page glossy brochure which will be sent to every household in the UK warning:

If the UK voted to leave the EU, the resulting economic shock would put pressure on the value of the pound, which would risk higher prices of some household goods and damage living standards. Losing our full access to the EU single market would make exporting to Europe harder and increase costs.

Last June, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stood in the House of Commons and said:

It will be for the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ campaigns to lead the debate in the weeks preceding the poll . . . I can assure the House that the government has no intention of undermining those campaigns

It seems the Government’s idea of not undermining the Leave campaign is to also spend £500k on design and a further £3m on producing a website and promoting it via social media. Facebook adverts have already appeared on some users’ News Feeds.

Given the strict spending limits (imposed by the Government) on both campaigns, the use of taxpayers’ money to campaign to remain in the EU gives the status-quo supporters a significant financial advantage. The Times claims that Remain’s total spending power will, therefore, be in the region of £33m, while the Leave campaign will only be able to spend £18m. The group which receives the official designation for each campaign will have their spending limit capped at £7m – over £2m less than the Government is spending on their own campaign.

Chairman of the Public Administration Committee Bernard Jenkin (a Tory MP) said:

Of course this is completely outrageous. In this one act, the government is going to be spending more than the official Leave campaign will be allowed to spend. It’s not as though the government isn’t already influencing the debate. This is not about a level playing field . . . and there’s a whiff of panic about it.

Meanwhile, one of the co-founders of the Grassroots Out campaign (which is hoping to be awarded the Electoral Commission’s designation as the official Leave campaign) Peter Bone (another Tory MP) said:

[This is] immoral, undemocratic and against what the government has promised. Many recent polls have shown that the majority of the UK public are actually in favour of leaving the EU so to spend their money on a pro-EU propaganda exercise is an inexcusable waste. The prime minister promised parliament that no taxpayers’ money would be spent promoting remain or leave. If this is not reversed it will seriously damage the prime minister’s reputation.

Despite promising that the Government would not interfere in the campaign in an official capacity, we have already seen that pro-EU cabinet ministers have been allowed to be briefed on pro-EU matters by their (taxpayer-funded) civil servants, while pro-Brexit cabinet ministers’ (taxpayer-funded) civil servants are not permitted to assist their political masters in preparing arguments for Brexit. This pro-EU propaganda, however, is on an entirely different level.

Whether you agree with Remaining in or Leaving the EU, you must surely agree that there are many, many better ways the Government could have spent £9m of our money. British voters were promised a free and fair in/out referendum, the result of which would be legally-binding. Free it may be, but, if the Government is using taxpayers’ money to favour one side over the other, then it is certainly not a fair fight.

And, if they can go back on their word with the Government now undermining one side of the debate, how can anyone trust them to honour the wishes of the British people if they vote to Leave the EU on 23 June?

Medway Messenger: Friday, 4 March 2016

I left the Conservative Party in 2013 for a number of reasons, but my principal reason for joining Ukip was to campaign for the right of the British people to have their say on continued membership of the European Union.

Now I am genuinely undecided over which way to cast my vote. I have always believed that the EU is too bureaucratic and unashamedly undemocratic – and the European reaction to the Prime Minister’s meagre renegotiation suggests a firm opposition to meaningful reform.

The EU affects our lives in so many ways, some good and some bad, which is precisely why I wanted everyone in this country to have the first right to decide on this issue since 1975.

It saddens me to see that the opening shots in the referendum battle (from both sides) have been more about scaremongering than promoting facts and sensible debate. If voters are to make an informed choice on June 23, then we need to see less rhetoric and more reality from both camps.

It would be a shame if the final result was tainted because remain and leave campaigners could not leave their dogma to one side to promote reasonable debate on an issue which is, frankly, much more important than their own egos.

Alan Collins
Goudhurst Road, Gillingham