‘EU had no appetite to change’ – MEP’s verdict after 20 years service
- Credit: Archant
Geoffrey Van Orden, who was an East of England MEP for more than 20 years, says Britain voted to leave because the EU had “no appetite for change”.
"I go to Brussels to speak up for British interests and for the people of the East of England" - these were my watchwords throughout my two decades as your Conservative MEP. With a constituency of 6 million people covering 58 Westminster seats, I feel privileged to have been elected five times to represent you.
I have no affection for the EU institutions and have been a consistent Eurosceptic in the true sense of the word. I was a very reluctant remainer in the referendum and I wholly support the democratic decision of the British people to leave the EU. I view Britain's future with great optimism under Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. We must all pull together.
So what did MEPs achieve? My role has been much like an MP's - your representative, elected directly by the British people, legislator, campaigner, inquisitor, and commentator. I have said to the many visitors to Brussels from our region - sixth formers, farmers, businessmen, constituents - we might not like the EU institutions, but we need to take them seriously.
I like to think I have been able to help many constituents at home and abroad as well as seeking to influence wider domestic and international issues.
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Over the years, Britain has often been the second largest contributor to EU funds. A small proportion of this was for projects in the UK, including the East of England. This was British taxpayers money recycled through Brussels. I wanted to ensure that it was put to good use. So I helped with many projects: not least the £3.2 million for the Ely rail loops, over £4 million for the North terminal improvements at Felixstowe docks, nearly £1 million to consolidate the fish processing industry in Lowestoft and some £1.2 million towards harbour improvements in Southwold. As a strong supporter of our fishing industry, I always took the view that the EU's Common Fisheries Policy was bad for the fish and bad for the fishermen.
As a champion of our rural communities and of country pursuits I did all that I could to help our farmers - over sugar beet quotas and prices, opposing extreme legislation on herbicides, and supporting additional research on plant diseases as well as the causes of bee-colony collapse. I am particularly proud of initiating the "Build" project which overcame red-tape and helped some 110 small businesses with up to £10,000 each for bespoke skills training.
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Besides standing up for our local interests, much of my time was also spent on Britain's international role - the need for a closer relationship with India, Sri Lanka and the Gulf states, better understanding of the strategic importance of Turkey, the political and moral necessity of supporting Israel, and spearheading the opposition to tyranny in Zimbabwe.
Often working more effectively out of the public eye, I sought to influence government and other decisions-makers. As a ceaseless opponent of European political integration, I have led the charge against EU defence policy, the misguided 'EU Army' idea, and been vigilant for the interests of NATO and the British armed forces. Not surprising perhaps, as I had spent 30 years previously as a British army officer. I sought tough action on terrorism, banning terrorist organisations and freezing their assets, calling out the false views of the Northern Ireland troubles propagated by Sinn Fein/IRA and their apologists. I have strongly opposed uncontrolled immigration and the EU's grab for asylum and immigration policy.
All the time, I pushed hard for the EU to change direction, to drop its superstate ambitions and respect the sovereignty of our nations. That's why I led the campaign across the East of England for a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. I was instrumental in the creation of a powerful new, trans-national and anti-federalist political group of European Conservatives and Reformist, which rapidly became the third largest of the eight political groups in the European Parliament. But it wasn't enough. The EU had no appetite for change and the British people therefore decided to leave before it was too late.
We are a great nation that should be immensely proud of our history and creative ingenuity, and the enormous, positive contribution we have made to the world. Foreigners often think more of us than we think of ourselves.
We shall have even more to offer as we restore our national self-confidence and build a new and different relationship with the EU while redoubling our efforts in the world beyond Europe.
As we leave the EU on 31 January, may I thank all those that have given me their support over many years.
- Geoffrey Van Orden CBE was an MEP for the East of England for more than 20 years, and leader of British Conservatives in the European Parliament.