Frinton's man bows out of European stage

In 1999, EADT political correspondent Graham Dines was the only journalist to forecast that Frinton-on-Sea's Jeffrey Titford would be elected to the European Parliament.

Graham Dines

In 1999, EADT political correspondent Graham Dines was the only journalist to forecast that Frinton-on-Sea's Jeffrey Titford would be elected to the European Parliament. Ten years' on, the two have been reminiscing as the MEP prepares to board Eurostar for the last journey to Brussels.

THE political establishment may not like it, but Britain is a nation of Eurosceptics.

We may have voted two to one to remain in the Commons Market in the 1975 referendum, but the great European adventure, in which more and more power has been ceded to Brussels, has turned sour, leaving the vast majority of the population seething at “Europe.”

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The Common Market became the European Economic Community and then morphed into the European Union as the original six members eventually swelled into 27.

The Treaty of Rome was amended in Maastrict, Amsterdam, and Nice before being superseded by the Treaty of Lisbon, the failed European Constitution in all but name.

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We may be a long way from what critics call a European super state, but despite what the pro-Europeans might say, it is clear that integration is the eventual aim of the bureaucrats and most leading governments in the EU.

Sir James Goldsmith launched the Referendum Party to fight the 1997 General Election on a Eurosceptic agenda. In the vanguard of the movement was Jeffrey Titford, a Frinton-on-Sea funeral director and former Tory member of the defunct Clacton urban district council.

Mr Titford fought Harwich, polling a remarkable 10% of the vote, more than enough to save his deposit. Most of his supporters were Tories fed-up with John Major's Maastrict “capitulation” and “betrayal” and their revolt against their own party led to Labour gaining the seat for first time in its history.

Two years' later, the Referendum Party had merged with another fledgling group the UK Independence Party, which pulled no punches. Europe was bad for Britain and we should pull out before the country becomes totally consumed. Mr Titford stood for the European Parliament in the new East of England constituency and won, thanks to the newly introduced proportional representation election system.

In the week of the election, I told readers not to be surprised if he was elected in this most Eurosceptic region of the UK. Mr Titford acknowledged: “You were the only person who could see what was obvious - UKIP had tapped into the vein of anger against the march of integration.”

Jeffrey Titford was 65 when elected. He sought re-election in 2004 and was not only successful, but managed to get a second UKIP member elected in the East. However, in the 2005 general election in Harwich, UKIP's support collapsed and he lost his deposit. “And that hurt.”

Now at 75, although still as active and alert as he's always been, Mr Titford is calling it a day. But he says: “Politics is an infectious disease. I love it.”

He could be tempted to fight one last general election campaign, although what wife Margaret will have to say about that has not yet been tested.

“I wish UKIP had been around when I was 40. I would have taken the fight to the establishment. There was no voice then opposed to Europe and I firmly believe that a strong and lively anti-European Party could have made a real breakthrough.”

And that's his biggest regret of all - that he was not elected to Westminster to raise the standard on behalf of millions people who want a halt to EU expansion.

“The day UKIP manages to get an MP elected will be the time when the establishment has to take notice of the people. Until now, they've dismissed UKIP as Little Englanders, and they have to be jolted out of their apathy.”

The UKIP delegation to the European Parliament is a member of the small Democracy Group. “I don't go on all the jollies to far flung destinations and I do not vote for any of the parliamentary legislation because that would mean I was giving it legitimacy. But I will vote for amendments if I feel they are in the best interests of the British people.”

He's the first to admit that he has not been able to stem the advance and expansion of the Union, but he says: “I have given UKIP a profile which is not totally ignored in Brussels. Our voice is heard.

“In my parliamentary speeches, I have never been afraid of straight talk and this directness has gotten me into trouble on many occasions. My use of words like `fraud' and `corruption' has irritated the powers that be and the President of the Parliament has rebuked me many times!”

He says his big success has been to champion the cause of Britain's sea fishermen, leading delegations to see the UK fisheries minister as well as the EU commissioner. “Progress was made in the area of flexibility on quota allocations so that fishermen with boats out of the water for repairs did not have to lose their allocation because they were unable to fish.”

He managed to achieve a temporary increase in the Dover sole quota in 2007 and then came one of the highlights of his career - the mass demonstration by fishing vessels in the Thames outside the Houses of Parliament. “I had to scramble ashore from the fishing boats several times to give interviews shown that evening and the next day on national and regional television.”

Mr Titford believes that the East of England remains Eurosceptic and for that reason, and despite the Conservative Party's renaissance, the region will elect two Euro MPs in June. He does fear, however, that UKIP's prospects could be scuppered by a plethora “of small parties trying to get in on the act. They could cloud the issue.”

But a big vote for UKIP would unhinge British politics. “We were a foot in the door in 1999. In 2004, we pushed it open so that people could see who was coming through that door. This year, the door will be pushed wide open.”

He adds: “The battle for Britain has been hard work, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world.”

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