Nigel Farage (right) interviewed by Adam Bolton Sky News
Anthems and Arrogance
When the alarm went off at 4.40 am on Monday 10 December 2007, it seemed that this week would be very similar to the last few weeks. In the previous seven days I had been to Cornwall, Wiltshire, Suffolk, London and Brussels. This week would be different, though, the one in which I really found out where the European Union is going.
I flew to Strasbourg on the 7 am flight from City Airport. To my surprise, there were no delays and the journey went very smoothly (in both September and October Air France had failed to get me home on the right day). Once in my Strasbourg office – which is little larger than a rabbit hutch – I had a few precious hours with hardly any people around. My mail and e-mail messages clog up badly when I am on the road, and I used my time to get up to date. As the afternoon progressed, the building started to fill up ahead of the opening of the parliamentary session at 5 pm. It all looked perfectly normal. But I had other ideas.
Since I was first elected in 1999, I have always tried to behave well in the European Parliament. What I have said has often caused outrage, but I have always stayed within the rules. However, the sheer dishonesty with which the failed EU Constitution has been repackaged as a Reform Treaty suggested to me that if the EU would not abide by any rules, there was no reason why we MEPs should.
Angela Merkel AKA Rosa Kleb
This treaty is a deliberate attempt to stop countries holding referendums. As the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said, “The substance of the Constitution is preserved. That is a fact.” So on Monday evening I began a series of meetings with MEPs to outline my own ideas on the subject.
On Tuesday, I spoke to a lunchtime get-together of Eurosceptic MEPs and suggested that now was the time to begin a campaign of obstruction in the European Parliament to protest against the dishonesty associated with the treaty. I was rather surprised to find that everyone in the room agreed.
The protest was to begin the very next day when a “solemn signing ceremony” of the Charter of Fundamental Rights was due to take place in the Parliament. We agreed that we would don T-shirts with the word “Referendum” emblazoned across them and four teams were appointed to smuggle four large “Referendum” banners into the chamber. The plan was taking shape.
We also agreed to examine closely parliamentary procedures to discover how we could clog up the work of the Parliament before the presentation to us of the new treaty in February.
The rest of the day was spent in a seemingly endless series of meetings, which is usual in Strasbourg. As co-leader of the Independence and Democracy Group, I find this is the one time of the month when everyone is together.
Our big discussion of the day is the Irish referendum, which will probably take place in May. The UKIP MEPs make a commitment to give a substantial sum of money towards the campaign. Our Irish colleague, Kathy Sinnott, is very pleased indeed. Ireland is the only country where a referendum on this wretched treaty is guaranteed and we shall do all that we can to help when the campaign is on. I agree with Kathy that I will advertise for UKIP members to go to Ireland to help.
Towards the end of the day I received a nice surprise – an invitation from the Portuguese Prime Minister to attend the treaty signing in Lisbon. I am sure he would really rather that I were not there, but he invited all the group leaders from the European Parliament. This is good news. Because I have an official invitation and I will now be in the room to witness the event, my costs will be paid. I had already booked to be in Lisbon and the flights alone cost more than £700. I attend all the EU summits because this gives UKIP valuable media time.
The day ends with the Ind/Dem Group Christmas party, which finishes much later than I had planned.
Protest at the European Parliament
On Wednesday morning, we head into the chamber for votes at 11 am. Voting lasts for an hour and is the usual awful experience. The only light moments come when the chairman gets the result wrong and is corrected by Graham Booth shouting out, “Check the result!” Hundreds of EU laws are passed without the results of votes ever having been proved to be correct. Such is the EU!
El Presidente Barroso cant cope with hecklers
When voting ends there is quite an atmosphere: we are all wearing our T-shirts and there is a buzz in the air. The official plan is for Commission President Barroso, Council President Socrates of Portugal and European Parliament President Pottering to sign the Charter of Fundamental Rights in solemn silence and then to round of the proceedings with the so-called EU Anthem. It does not quite work out like that.
The event is preceded by the usual speeches which tell us that “this is what our citizens want” etc. As Mr Pottering speaks, I keep telling everyone, “Wait until you see the whites of their eyes.” This, however, proves to be unsustainable when Mr Socrates takes the podium – all of us wearing T-shirts stand up, while around the auditorium the four giant banners are unfurled.
These actions are met with a barrage of shouts and abuse from both sides, so that Mr Socrates is unable to speak through the noise. This provokes a standing ovation for the Council President from the other side. And then it starts.
To begin with, just a few members start a chant of “Referendum! Referendum! Referendum!” Then more join in, but after a while this stops and the speeches continue. Mr Socrates has dealt with this well, but when Mr Barroso rises, he looks as if he does not want to be there and finds the heckling difficult to deal with.
The official signing takes place against a now pretty constant chant of “Referendum!” and then the music begins – “Ode to Joy”, the EU Anthem. (Remember, this is the anthem that Gordon Brown tells us is not now part of the treaty.) The Eurosceptic chanting is so loud that I can barely hear the music. In front of me, a very large German MEP, who had been hurling abuse at us earlier, stands to attention: this is the anthem for a state, and they really believe in it. They believe it so firmly that they are prepared to ignore public opinion and “no” votes in referendums. This is the new nationalism and it will stop at nothing. It is dangerous and it is frightening.
Some of the aftermath of our demonstration was fairly ugly. A Labour MEP was highly abusive to me and kept pushing and shoving me. Perhaps he was trying to provoke me into hitting him, but I resisted the temptation. The accusation was that we were behaving like football hooligans. Yet our protest would never have happened if Labour had kept its promise of a referendum, and I am sure that UKIP voters would want us to protest at this deception.
At 1.30 pm I left for the airport to catch a plane to Paris Charles de Gaulle and from there, after a four-hour wait, on to Lisbon. On arrival, the bags take an age to come through and I do not reach at my meeting until 11.30 pm. Fortunately, our press officer, Clive Page, is busy entertaining our Portuguese anti-EU friends. Given the hour, I opt for a bowl of soup and we discuss the European elections of 2009 in Portugal, hoping that the new party there can make the kind of breakthrough we did back in 1999. Finally slump into bed at 1.30 am – earlier than the night before, at least.
Echoes of Eurovision in Lisbon
The day of the Lisbon Treaty starts early with telephone calls and texts from 6.30 am. Our protest of the previous day has made very big news across the Continent, though it receives hardly a mention in the UK. This makes me angry because it is a pattern I have seen many times before. The UK press just will not acknowledge the extent to which the EU runs our lives, but we keep on trying.
Clive and I have breakfast and head for the Monastery Jereminos, a staggeringly beautiful 15th century building constructed to honour Vasco da Gama. It is here that the treaty will be signed and the scene is certainly impressive. We view the auditorium and head into the cloisters for coffee. Around us it seems that almost everyone is smoking cigarettes, even in a monastery.
As the time approaches for the ceremony, I decide that I will have a shot at speaking to David Miliband, our very youthful looking Foreign Secretary. I position myself where the great and good will walk on to the podium. A security guard approaches me and I show my government invitation: she is a very beautiful Portuguese woman who, seeing the badge, assumes that I must be very important and allows me to remain.
Young Milliband wore long trousers – wonder what he wants to be when he grows up?
A stream of European prime ministers and foreign ministers comes past, then, just a few feet away, is my target – young Mr Miliband.
“Referendum, Foreign Secretary? That’s what you promised.” Luckily, the security guard does not think I am a knife-wielding lunatic.
Mr Miliband looks at me, gives a weak smile and a hollow laugh, and makes his way to the podium. I was the last person to speak to him before he signed the treaty.
Once they had all assembled, the first act was – yes, you’ve guessed it – the playing of the EU Anthem. In the hall, everyone stood up, breasts clasped, backs ramrod-straight. I continued to sit in my place, head in hands. This was followed by the same appalling and arrogant speeches that we had heard the day before, then, one by one, 26 prime ministers and foreign secretaries made their way to a table to sign the treaty. Each signature was met with a round of applause and as the name of each country was read out I could only begin to think that perhaps this was really the Eurovision Song Contest.
Gordon “Bottler” Brown arrived late to avoid the photo opportunity
The 27th country to be called was the United Kingdom. We had just one representative, Mr Miliband. He gave some sign of embarrassment but duly signed – Gordon Brown being still three hours away. I thought that whether you were pro or anti the EU, you would find the British performance here cringe-makingly awful. If the Government really wants us to have this treaty, then Mr Brown should have been there.
A rather grand lunch had been prepared for the invitees, but I simply could not force myself to spend any more time with the self-satisfied political classes. I preferred to spend the afternoon speaking on radio and television, broadcasting the UKIP view across the Continent.
Nigel Farage UK Independence Party (Leader)