Can Europe Make It?

Populist snapshots: UKIP (UK) in the European Parliament

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This article looks at the basic framing devices of UKIP rhetoric in the European parliament, and some of their debates. It is taken from a Counterpoint series on populist rhetoric leading up to the European elections, including recommendations on how to respond to populist rhetoric.

Marley Morris Gerard Batten Paul Nuttall Robert Goebbels Godfrey Bloom Eva Britt Svensson Corina Creţu
14 May 2014


The UK Independence Party is a populist party that argues for British withdrawal from the EU. Initially a single-­issue party founded by the LSE’s Professor Alan Sked after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, in recent years UKIP has gained greater prominence, winning support from older, male, working class voters. Since the 2010 general election, UKIP’s support has surged, in part benefiting from its anti­immigration rhetoric, its opposition to the EU’s freedom of movement laws and its critique of the political elite. Nigel Farage MEP, UKIP’s leader, has made no bones about aiming to win the European Parliament elections in 2014 – after coming second in the last 2009 elections – and to cause an “earthquake” in British politics.

UKIP’s leadership has strong libertarian leanings, unlike its support base. The party has advocated a flat tax and argued in favour of more international trade. But at the same time it has a protectionist streak, opposing “open­ door immigration” and advocating a greater use of temporary work permits and a five­year immigration ban for people who want to settle permanently.

Our research shows that MEPs from populist parties tend to have little direct impact on policy in the European Parliament’s committees but are disproportionately active in parliamentary debates. UKIP is a prime example of this – one of their primary reasons for joining forces with other national delegations and forming a political group in the European Parliament is to ensure more speaking time in debates for Nigel Farage. 

UKIP’s rhetoric is composed of four interlocking frames:

1.  Ruled from above   The rulers who represent the elites have gained too much power over those they rule, the hard­working ordinary people. The ruled no longer have control over their own affairs and are at the mercy of the unaccountable rulers. The ruled should be able to rule themselves. We must reduce the power and reach of the rulers, who only care about the elites, either by reducing their influence or by eliminating them altogether.

2.  Paradise lost    The representatives of tradition want to bring back a Paradise Lost, while the representatives of moder­nity are engulfed in a meaningless rush toward a soulless future. For UKIP, the paradise lost is an independ­ent, more homogenous Britain – the UK’s membership of the EU, the acceleration of immigration to Britain, and the liberal, modernising politics introduced by New Labour and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition have transformed the country. The solution is to leave the EU, reduce immigra­tion, stop multiculturalism, and turf out career politicians.

3.  Reinstating common sense      We need to listen to the non­professional politicians who have other forms of experience – they are in touch with reality and can find the way out of the mess the politicians have got us into. On every issue, from banking to women’s rights, EU policymakers are naïve “true believers” in the abstract European project at the expense of everything else. UKIP politicians are the down-­to­-earth, practical real representatives of the people, who could find a way out of the mess the EU has made of Europe, if only they were given half a chance.

4. The bearers of truth       For UKIP politicians, EU politicians are naïve cowards, while they and their supporters are ready to be upfront about the truth. The politicians just will not listen to UKIP’s message that the people of Europe have had enough of the EU and freedom of movement. Again and again, UKIP try to warn EU leaders of their mistakes and of the dangers that could result if they are not heeded. Again and again, they are ignored. As a result, a great disaster looms. 

Here are three typical exchanges between UKIP politicians and other MEPs in the European Parliament:

1. Roma Rights

In October 2013, the European Parliament debated the situation of the Roma people in Europe, discussing how to alleviate instances of extreme poverty and exclusion among the Roma community. During the debate, UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall made a speech:

Paul Nuttall (EFD):  

Mr President, unlike many people in this Chamber I have actually been to a Roma camp in Bulgaria. That is me in a place called Fakulteta, which has up to 50 000 people living in slums in a square mile. And I saw conditions there of poverty and deprivation that one rarely sees outside sub­ Saharan Africa. If I were forced to live like this, and you were forced to live this, you would seize any chance to leave, and that is what many will do on 1 January next year and many will be headed to the UK.

Some are coming to do honest work, we know that, but some will not. Sadly there are gangmasters within the Roma community who force children to work as everything such as pickpockets and prostitutes [sic]. This is already hap­ pening in other European countries and in January it will happen in the UK as well. So, centuries after social reform­ ers in Britain stopped child prostitution and put a stop to Dickensian pickpocket gangs, the EU will foist them upon us once again.

There will be a backlash, trust me, and our government will not and cannot do anything about it because of the Euro­ pean Union’s laws. The best way, I believe, to help these people is not to export them round Europe: it is for their own national governments to do what our people did a long time ago and take the fight to child abusers who force them to work as career criminals.


Corina Creţu (S&D):  

My question was: what is your basis when you speak about such an apocalyptic idea, referring to the 1st January 2014? It is the obligation of all the European countries to lift the restrictions on the labour market for Romanian and Bul­ garian labourers. And I think this political, or even populist position towards this obligation, on the part of the United Kingdom amongst other member states, is counterproduc­tive for the European Union.


Paul Nuttall (EFD): 

Of course I think this obligation is completely wrong. We have 22 % of our own young people in the UK out of work. That is a million people unemployed. All that will happen when we open up the borders on 1 January 2014 to 29 million more people is that they will saturate the job market. It is about economics, it is nothing to do with racism and, quite frankly, we are only a small island and we cannot cope as it is. 

Counterpoint comment:

Nuttall portrays himself as an innocent observer, aware of a dangerous but inevitable “backlash” and desperate to wake the slumbering MEPs, who have no idea what approaches. He repeatedly mentions the date of the change in rules, creating the impression of a sharp cut-off, a point of no return, requiring urgent attention. “We cannot cope” is something a family might say if they are struggling to pay the bills or if they are reeling from a personal tragedy; by using the phrase in the context of a national political issue, Nuttall marries together this emotional distress signal with his wider political vision.

Creţu needs to address Nuttall more directly – she refers to Nuttall as “populist” but never really attacks his fundamental message. A different response would take on Nuttall’s claim that he has “real-life experience”.


2. Immigration

In 2011, the French government temporarily reintroduced border controls between France and Italy after the Italian government issued visas for thousands of Tunisian migrants, in the expectation that many would take the opportunity to travel to France. New legislation was introduced to clarify when temporary border controls could be reintroduced under Schengen. In this debate on the new legislation, UKIP MEP Gerard Batten takes aim at the fundamentals of the Schengen agreement.


Gerard Batten (EFD):

Mr President, last year we saw the Schengen system buckle under the strain of mass migration, and some Member States sought to introduce unilateral controls. The revision of the rules is an attempt to keep the lid on a boiling pot, but it is too little and too late. It only allows some controls in very exceptional circumstances for a limited period of time. It is too little, too late.

An open­borders policy could only work between countries with very similar and stable economic and cultural natures. The EU’s open­borders policy is a disaster for ordinary people, and has created enormous social problems. This has all been done in pursuit of a political ideology not shared by the people of Europe. That ideology is that the continent of Europe is a single country, a United States of Europe, which obviously it is not.


Robert Goebbels (S&D):

Mr Batten, you just told us that on the matter of border controls European policy is a complete catastrophe. We know that Great Britain is not part of the Schengen area. Could you explain, Mr Batten, why there are so many illegal immigrants in Great Britain and why your country, which is not part of this cursed Schengen, has so many problems with immigration?


Counterpoint comment:

The central frame underlying Batten’s “boiling pot” metaphor is the “Bearers of truth” frame - there are nasty, natural forces at play here, and UKIP is simply pointing out the dangers. The choice is simple: listen to UKIP or face the wrath of the electorate and violent instability in Europe. Goebbels treats the exchange as if it will be won or lost on the quality of reasoning. Accordingly, he thinks that by pointing out that the UK is not part of Schengen he can beat Batten. But that is not how political debate of this kind works. By repeating Batten’s criticisms of the EU, he just ends up reinforcing them.

3. Gender equality

On International Women’s Day in 2011 (March 8), the EU held a joint debate on two reports about women: one on the equality between women and men, and one on female poverty.

Godfrey Bloom (EFD): 26

Madam President, there is a lot of self­congratulation going on here in the European Union on International Women’s Day. It is my opinion that you have made a complete dog’s breakfast of it. You talk about maternity leave. All that is happening with draconian maternity leave, let me tell you, Madam, is that fewer and fewer young women in my country are getting jobs because you would have to be stark staring mad to employ a young woman if you have a small business. So you have done them no favours.

We have equal opportunities for car insurance now due to another lunatic judgment by the European Court, which means that even if young women could get a job, they could not afford to drive to it because they have just had their car insurance doubled. And now you are talking about quotas. What kind of madness is this? Women who have worked all their lives to get to a position of responsibility in business – professional women – are being patronised on quotas. Now those women who have been successful will sit in a board­ room and people will look across that boardroom and say, are you a token woman or did you get there because you know your business? The whole thing is completely crazy and it is a tragedy that none of you have done a real job in your lives or you would understand this.


Eva­Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL):

Madam President, Mr Bloom, desiring parental insurance and believing it to be a good thing does not make someone raving mad. You only need to look at those Member States that have a well­developed parental insurance system. Those countries – the Nordic countries, Sweden for example – also have the highest rate of employment for women. This proves that good parental insurance means that we will also have higher employment figures for women, and men, too, of course. Parental insurance is good for equality on the labour market. Women can also contribute to prosperity in the EU. 

Godfrey Bloom:

Madam President, this is simply not true and is not borne out by the statistics in my country. Speak to any small busi­nessman you like in my country. I am not interested in the honourable Member’s country or other people’s countries, I am interested in my country and my economy, and I can tell you that all businessmen and women will say that they will not employ young women because of the draconian mater­ nity laws. I wish, I desperately wish, you would come into the real world; hands up any of you who have had a real job!

Counterpoint comment:

Svensson tries to address Bloom’s points by negating one of the frames that he introduces, “Reinstating common sense”. But when Svensson tries to use employment statistics to undermine Bloom’s argument, he responds not with his own quantitative analysis or with a careful unpicking of Svensson’s argument, but with straightforward denial. Indeed, in his response, Bloom uses Svensson’s carefully reasoned, comparative approach against her. He dismisses her attempt to draw wider lessons from the Swedish system – the idea that he should care or know about Sweden suggests that he should take his eyes off his own country. The presumption here is: I don’t have time to care about the whole world and I know my priorities. As a result, Svensson’s remarks barely deflect Bloom from his overarching message – that only Bloom has spoken to small businessmen in the UK and can tell the situation as it really is – which he repeats with gusto. 


This Counterpoint report, Populist Rhetoric: UKIP was originally published on 28 April, 2014. For the full Counterpoint feature in the series on populist rhetoric leading up to the European elections, including recommendations for how to respond to populist rhetoric, please see here.

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