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

Adeus, democracia (#PortugalCoup)

The President of Portugal has decided that the European Union is more important than the democratic will of the people.

The Portuguese President, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, has risked a constitutional crisis by refusing to invite a majority coalition in the Assembly of the Republic to form a government.

Following the elections on 4 October, no single party achieved a majority of the 230 seats represented in the legislative assembly. The largest party was Portugal à Frente (Portugal Ahead, or PàF), the incumbent centre-right government led by Pedro Passos Coelho, whose seat tally fell from a majority-forming 132 down to 107. They won just 38.6% of the popular vote, compared to 50.4% in the last election in 2011.

The other four parties (who are opposed to the EU and the Euro) all increased both their share of the votes and their number of seats in the parliament. The second party, Partido Socialista (Socialist Party, or PS) increased their number of seats from 74 to 86, and vote share from 28% to 32.3%, under leader António Costa. Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc, or BE) went from 8 to 19 seats with a 5% increase of vote share to 10.2%. The communist Coligação Democrática Unitária (United Democratic Coalition, or CDU) now have 17 seats from an 8.3% vote share, while the green Pessoas-Animais-Natureza (People-Animals-Nature, or PAN) won their first seat in the national assembly since their formation in 2009, from a vote share of 1.4%.

The four parties of the left, with a majority of seats in the assembly, set about negotiating a potential coalition government to stop PàF from attempting to form a minority administration. Such an agreement was reached, which would have seen António Costa become the Prime Minister, and they expressed their intentions following consultations with the President.

In response, the President opted to invite Pedro Passos Coelho to form a minority government, becoming the first head of an EU member state to block a democratic majority of eurosceptic parties from taking power. In justification, he said:

In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO.

This is the worst moment for a radical change to the foundations of our democracy.

After we carried out an onerous programme of financial assistance, entailing heavy sacrifices, it is my duty, within my constitutional powers, to do everything possible to prevent false signals being sent to financial institutions, investors and markets.

The decision the Portuguese President has made sends a clear signal that membership of the European Union and the Euro is more important than than the democratically-expressed wishes of the people. A majority of those who voted did not want PàF as their government, an agreement has been reached which would follow the wishes of the majority of voters, but this has been overruled in the interests of the EU.

Imagine, unlikely as it is, that David Cameron had entered into the 2015 general election promising to leave the European Union. Despite having won a parliamentary majority, a coalition minority made up of all the opposition parties defending Britain’s membership was instead invited by the Queen to form a government in the interests of the EU. There would be uproar.

The principles of freedom of trade and co-operation must be defended. But so must democracy. However, the European Union does not care for the latter, which threatens its very existence. The only democratic institution within this bloated and dysfunctional trading bloc, the European Parliament, is merely a façade: it must decide whether or not to accept the legislation it is presented with, but cannot introduce it’s own, and the self-interest of the majority of groups means legislation is rarely given sufficient scrutiny.

The EU is in desperate need of reform, but it simply will not happen; few wish to rock the boat nor halt the gravy train. It is in the interests of countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain to see reform, as much as it is in Britain’s, for economic as well as political reasons, but the EU is now so introverted that it cannot see the needs of individual member states. The approach seems to be that the EU is king, member states must follow, and from a democratic point of view that is simply unacceptable.

For Portugal, being a member of the EU means a democratic majority in parliament being refused the opportunity to form a government; the voice of the people being reduced to a mere opinion, rather than the firm instruction that it should be.

The European Union’s finest hour has passed, and, sooner or later, democracy will catch up with it.